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EPA awards UMBC $15,000 for Urine Nutrient Extraction Project

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded UMBC a $15,000 grant for an investigation into new technology that could sustainably remove nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium pollution from urine. This grant belonged to a larger pool of funding on a national level through the People, Prosperity, and the Planet grants program.

These teams consist of college students nationwide who are developing sustainable technologies to address environmental and public health challenges that affect the populace today. In a press release from the EPA, administrator Scott Pruit said, “This year’s P3 teams are applying their classroom learning to create valuable, cutting-edge technologies.” He additionally said, “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.”

The P3 competition spreads its funding across two distinct phases. Phase I awards are $15,000 grants that go towards the funding of a project demonstration, which goes on to be showcased at the National Sustainable Design Expo. UMBC is among 31 Phase I university student teams through this program.

The 2018 Expo is scheduled to be held in Washington DC, April 7-8. After this, Phase I teams can compete for Phase II of up to $75,000 which goes towards further development and implementation of their ideas.  According to the EPA’s website regarding the program, the P3 program began in 2004, and since then has awarded 726 grants totaling $15.5 million to over 4,000 students from 234 universities from all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

The research project entered into the P3 competition revolves around creating a device that can extract nutrients from urine. The device, known as a Nutrient Extraction and Recovery Device or NERD, can be used to recover nutrients such as phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium from urine. These nutrients can impair water and environmental quality, and the team hopes to be able to extract 90 percent of these nutrients from source-separated urine with minimal use of energy or chemicals.

Other projects for this year include a gray water irrigation system from Mercer University, development of mushroom mycelium-based biocomposite for fashion products from the University of Delaware and a graphene bead filter used for water purification.

Currently, the team is conducting NERD optimization studies with lab-scale reactors in order to maximize the rate and magnitude of the nutrient recovery from both synthetic and real urine. This will include the modification of a port-o-potty with the device in order to gather data and to provide a demonstration of the ability to recover these nutrients from actual urine collected on UMBC’s campus.