A team of students from the University of Florida (UF) was honored with the ASCE Sustainable Development Award at the Environmental Protection Agency’s EPA P3 (People, Prosperity, and the Planet) Award Competition on April 11-12, 2015, at Oronoco Bay Park in Alexandria, Va.
The UF team designed its project, “Feed the UriNation Using Contaminant-Free Fertilizer, ” as a scalable, low-cost treatment system to remove pharmaceuticals in source-separated urine using water materials. The final result of this process is a local fertilizer for use in developed and developing countries.
“By removing pharmaceuticals from urine, we not only reduce pharmaceutical contamination of the environment, but also enable the use of urine as an alternative fertilizer,” said Stephanie Ishii ’15, Ph.D. Environmental Engineering.
The contaminant-free-fertilizer project is based upon the fact that urine contributes 80% of the nitrogen, 50% of the phosphorus, and 50% of the pharmaceuticals in wastewater, but only 1% of the volumetric flow.
“Using source-separation techniques, it is expected that valuable nutrients, phosphate, and potassium could be harvested from wastewater,” said Treavor H. Boyer, Ph.D., associate professor of the University of Florida’s Department of Environmental Engineering Sciences. “This process would offer many benefits, including conserving drinking water, cutting fertilizer expenses, and offering the University of Florida the opportunity be a leader in the important sustainability effort.”
When the Florida Gators play football, the UF team intends to harvest nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium from the game-day wastewater for use as fertilizer. UF student researchers will identify the volume and composition of wastewater produced at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium during a Gators game. The amount of fertilizer used on UF’s Florida Field and its composition will also be determined.
A simple mathematical model will be created to determine the amount of fertilizer that could be produced from nutrients in the urine wastewater collected during a football game. Technologies available for harvesting nutrients from urine will also be explored at the laboratory scale, including perceptional and absorption technologies. Students and researchers will gather information by conducting laboratory experiments, reading peer-reviewed literature, and talking with faculty experts on the UF campus.
“We were very excited to identify two biochars originating from bamboo and southern yellow pines that were able to remove greater than 90% of two widely used pharmaceuticals from urine,” Ishii says.
”One of the key elements that ASCE values in all its efforts is to pay attention to the triple bottom line: economic, environmental, and social,” said Alex Rosenheim, P.E., LEED AP BD&C, M.ASCE, chair of the ASCE National Capital Section’s Sustainability Committee. “There are so many wonderful ideas and projects, and what we focused on is the impact the project can have on the developing world. The University of Florida project includes our values and exceeds our objectives.”
This is the 11th year that ASCE has presented an award at the EPA P3 Competition. The ASCE Sustainable Development Award, which includes $1,000 for the school and a certificate for each of the team members, recognizes the project which best represents 3 criteria: use of local raw materials, simplicity of design, and widespread impact on quality of life for the developing region.
“We are thrilled to receive the ASCE Sustainable Development Award, as this honor highlights our efforts to design a process that can be practiced in both developed and developing countries,” said Ishii. “This award will allow us to scale up our biochar reactor and further evaluate the fate of pharmaceuticals in agriculture when using urine as a fertilizer. Additionally, recognition from ASCE brings attention to the importance of urine in sustainable wastewater management and the security of our food supply. We look forward to future collaborations within the ASCE community!”
“The project [used] simple but powerful technologies that utilized locally obtainable and low-cost materials. The concept reduces the toxins in the wastewater stream and results in both clean drinking water and usable fertilizer,” said Rosenheim. “The process explored and developed by UF team will provide a tool to allow remote areas to increase their self-sufficiency, reduce economic burdens dealing with treating hazardous conditions, and improve their environmental stewardship.”
The ASCE Sustainable Development Award was judged by members of the National Capital Section Sustainability Committee.
“ASCE has been a proud sponsor of EPA P3: People, Prosperity and the Planet from the time it was established just over 10 years ago because it promotes the triple bottom line of sustainability – linking technology serving people in communities, preserving and restoring the natural environment, and creating economic wealth over the life cycle,” said Michael R. Sanio, F.ASCE, CAE, ENV SP, ASCE’s director of Sustainability and International Alliances. “The EPA P3 program supports multidisciplinary teams – engineers, social scientists, business students – to address some of the most pressing challenges, or opportunities, of our time. The ASCE Sustainability Award recognizes the team that develops the best replicable project targeted at the developing world.”
“Our amazing P3 teams have the passion and the creativity that inspire us all,” said Lek Kadeli, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency acting assistant administrator for research and development, during the April 13 award ceremony. “The dedication and commitment you have to make the planet more sustainable is simply inspiring. You have raised the bar of this competition as the quality of the research projects continually improves, and generates a lot of attention.”
The ASCE Award was just one award presented during the annual EPA P3 Award Competition, which is a two-phase team contest. In the first phase, interdisciplinary student teams compete for $15,000 in grants. Recipients use the money to research and develop design projects during the academic year, and produce a project report and a Phase II proposal. The judges recommended to EPA which teams should receive the EPA P3 Award and the opportunity for Phase II funding of up to$90,000.