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U.S. EPA awards grant to U.C. Davis for innovative technology project

California school among 31 teams selected nationwide

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Nahal Mogharabi (

SAN FRANCISCO—Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded a $14,998 grant to students at the University of California, Davis to study whether beetle larvae can help reduce polystyrene waste. The grant, awarded through the People Prosperity, and the Planet (P3) program, was one of 31 awarded nationwide totaling $463,000. The P3 program supports student teams in developing sustainable technologies to solve current environmental and public health challenges.

“This year’s P3 teams are applying their classroom learning to create valuable, cutting-edge technologies,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “This next generation of scientists is 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.”

“Reducing landfill waste is critically important to conserving land, water and air resources,” said Alexis Strauss, EPA’s Acting Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “Projects such as the UC Davis beetle pilot encourage students to pursue solutions to our environmental challenges.”

The project, “Beetle larvae as biodegraders of Styrofoam and organic waste,” will use darkling beetles to biologically break down (biodegrade) polystyrene (commonly known as Styrofoam), a leading component of landfill waste. The research team will produce a strain of high-performance, beetles and design a pilot program to test their effectiveness for breaking down waste. The beetles may also be used in animal feed and compost after breaking down the waste.

“Organization of our food systems will be a defining challenge in the upcoming century and I believe insects will play a significant role in transforming our agricultural sectors,” said Trevor Fowles, University of California, David PhD student and project lead. “Opportunities for pioneering research in this field are palpable, and failing to support progress in this sector will result in depriving the United States of valuable sustainable jobs. This is why programs such as the EPA’s P3 competition are so valuable, because they offer an avenue for investment in long term economic and environmental sustainability not often offered via private capital or seed funding.”

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. 

These students, who represent the future workforce in diverse scientific and engineering fields, are following in the footsteps of previous P3 teams. Some of these teams have gone on to start businesses based on ideas and products developed through their P3 project. For example, Sunn, a high-tech lighting start-up, spun out of a project by Cornell University students who won a P3 award in 2012 to design and test a fiber optic hybrid lighting system. Sunn now creates energy-efficient LED light fixtures and apps that mimic outdoor light, inside.

For a full list of 2017 Phase I winners and their projects, please visit:

For more information on the P3 Program, visit:

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