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U.S. EPA awards grants to U.C. Riverside and University of Southern California for innovative technology projects

California schools among 31 teams selected nationwide

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Nahal Mogharabi (

LOS ANGELES—Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded a total of $30,000 in grants to students at the University of California, Riverside and the University of Southern California to develop sustainable technologies addressing today’s environmental and public health challenges. The U.C. Riverside team is designing a device to reduce emissions from lawn and garden equipment; the USC team is developing a visual apparatus that will control lighting conditions and increase energy savings in office buildings. More than $463,000 was awarded to 31 student teams around the country through EPA’s People Prosperity, and the Planet (P3) program.

“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.”

“Improving air quality in our communities and increasing energy efficiency in our buildings makes environmental and economic sense,” said Alexis Strauss, EPA’s Acting Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “Projects such as these encourage students to pursue solutions to our environmental challenges.”

The goal of the U.C. Riverside project is the development of an inexpensive catalytic converter prototype for small off-road engines such as lawn mowers, gasoline-powered generators and leaf blowers. The device aims to reduce carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxide (NOx), particulate matter (PM) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Students will also hold educational and outreach events on campus and in Riverside focusing on sustainability, air pollution and purification.

“The UCR team is very excited to have been selected to participate in the EPA P3 competition,” said David Cocker, Professor of Chemical and Environmental Engineering at the U.C. Riverside.  “This work will enable a diverse team of UCR engineers to build and evaluate a catalytic control device for reduction of NOx emissions from small engines.”

Students at the University of Southern California will develop a system that can control indoor lighting levels based upon the pupil sizes of occupants in the room. The team’s goal is creating a system that can set optimal lighting conditions based upon pupil response, helping to increase energy efficiency and save costs in office environments.

“Professor Joon-Ho Choi’s innovative research analyses data collected from building occupants that correlate human eye pupil size with building lighting systems. His interdisciplinary work unites the fields of architecture, medicine, and engineering and aims to address indoor environmental quality issues that are prevalent in many contemporary buildings,” said Vittoria Di Palma, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, USC School of Architecture. “The support of the United States Environmental Protection Agency gives Professor Choi the ability to generate novel environmental control and design approaches that contribute to occupant comfort, increased work productivity, and well-being, as well as environmental benefits.

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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