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News Releases from Region 02

EPA Awards Innovative Technology Grants to Cornell University and The Sage Colleges in New York State

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Tayler Covington (

(New York, N.Y.) Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced over $463,000 in funding for 31 Phase I 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. In Region 2, Cornell University and The Sage Colleges are both recipients of grants announced today.

“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.”

“Cornell University and The Sage Colleges have created innovative research projects that tackle some of our most pressing environmental and public health challenges," said Regional Administrator Pete Lopez. "By participating in the P3 program, these students have the opportunity to bring their exciting new ideas for innovation in sustainability to life."

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. 

Cornell University – Ithaca, N.Y. – $15,000

  • Cornell University is receiving $15,000 to research, design and test an Upflow Anaerobic Sludge Blanket reactor, which is an affordable alternative to urban-style wastewater treatment facilities primarily in developing nations and small villages. Student teams will collaborate with partner organizations to improve water treatment technologies and engage the end-user community to promote the sustainable management of wastewater.

"The AguaClara team recognizes that wastewater treatment is essential for a healthy ecosystem as well as for public health, and we’ve developed a set of technologies that can help provide safe drinking water to small cities, towns and villages,” said Monroe Weber-Shirk, a senior lecturer in the Department of Environmental Engineering in the College of Engineering, and the founder of the AquaClara program. “Using the principle of 'elegant simplicity,' we hope to develop improved upflow anaerobic sludge blanket digestors with the goal of creating designs that are more efficient and easier to build, operate and maintain. Achieving that with the EPA’s help will allow life-saving wastewater treatment to be more affordable for more communities in the U.S. and around the world."

Students at The Sage Colleges. Photo courtesy of The Sage Colleges.

The Sage Colleges – Albany, N.Y. – $14,776

  • The Sage Colleges is receiving $14,776 to research and improve the solar disinfection process where plastic bottles and direct sunlight are used to sterilize contaminated drinking water. The Sage College P3 team will use green chemistry to design an additive to the solar disinfection process, making the process time-efficient, cost-effective and sustainable.

“The Sage Colleges is grateful to the Environmental Protection Agency for supporting undergraduate research,” said Sue Beatty, Ph.D., provost of The Sage Colleges. “I am exceptionally proud of Professor Emilly Obuya and her students, who received a Phase I P3 grant from the EPA, and have been working to develop a prototype that they will present at the National Sustainable Design Expo in Washington, D.C. The Sage team is collaborating with partners along the nearby Hudson River and as far away as Kenya as they apply green chemistry principles and nanotechnology to develop a catalyst that will be used to provide safe drinking water to affected communities. The P3 program gives Sage students an opportunity to engage in relevant national and global research in water sanitation, and to apply their knowledge to finding solutions to complex environmental and public health challenges.”

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 began as a team of students from Cornell University that 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. In 2007, a P3 team from Drexel University developed a Bubble Column Reactor which used fatty acids gathered from grease-trap waste at wastewater management plants to create biodiesel. This technology formed the foundation for Environmental Fuel Research, LLC.

Projects from this year’s P3 teams include innovative ideas like harnessing solar power to disinfect drinking water and using beetles as a way to degrade Styrofoam waste.

To learn more about the projects of the 2017 Phase I winners, visit:

For more information on the P3 Program, visit: