An official website of the United States government.

News Releases from Region 10

University of Washington Team Garners EPA Grant for Innovative Pollution Prevention Technology

More efficient phosphorous removal at water treatment plants could cut costs, decrease discharge

Contact Information: 
Mark MacIntyre (

SEATTLE - Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced over $463,000 in funding for 31 student teams through the People, Prosperity, and the Planet (P3) grants program. These teams, made up of college students from across the country, are developing sustainable technologies to solve current environmental and public health challenges.

A student team from the University of Washington has been awarded a $15,000 EPA P3 Phase 1 grant to develop an enhanced and more affordable method to recover phosphorus in wastewater using an innovative online sensor.

“This year’s P3 teams are applying their classroom learning to create innovative and practical technologies,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “This next generation of scientists has demonstrated a commitment to designing sustainable solutions that will help protect public health and the environment and ensure America continues to lead the world in innovation and science for decades to come.”

Funding for the P3 competition is divided into two phases. Teams selected for Phase I awards receive grants of up to $15,000 to fund the proof-of-concept for their projects, which are then showcased at the National Sustainable Design Expo. The 2018 Expo is scheduled to be held at the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, DC, April 7-8. Phase I teams are eligible to compete for Phase II awards of up to $75,000 to further develop and implement their designs. 

Some wastewater treatment plants are designed to focus on removing nutrients, such as phosphorus and nitrogen, to prevent them from entering waterbodies. Excessive phosphorous loading in rivers, lakes and streams can cause explosive plant growth, deplete dissolved oxygen and harm fish and insect habitat. Greener, more sustainable wastewater treatment also aims to reduce chemical use and enhance nutrient and resource recovery for re-use.

Enhanced Biological Phosphorus Removal or EBPR, is a more cost effective and environmentally friendly way to remove phosphorous without adding chemicals to the process. The sludge produced can also be used as fertilizer. EBPR is not commonly used at wastewater treatment plants due to the challenges of maintaining a stabilized microbial community and process failure prevention.

The University of Washington’s student project is aimed at developing an innovative sensor technology that uses online monitoring and controls the EBPR process. If successful, it will be the first sensor to provide reliable, real-time measurements of phosphate in wastewater. Once in place, these sensors could potentially simplify operations, increase removal and recovery efficiency and dramatically reduce chemical usage at EBPR facilities.

The complex design was developed by an interdisciplinary student team with knowledge and expertise in wastewater engineering, microbiology and computer science. Student researchers expect to achieve full-scale technology implementation at wastewater plants in the near future.

To learn more about all P3 Phase I winners’ projects:

More information on the P3 Program: