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UI Researchers Win First Phase of $10 Million Everglades Clean Water Science Prize

December 07, 2016

A University of Idaho research team has won the first phase of a scientific challenge to save the Florida Everglades and other freshwater resources facing critical pollution challenges.

The UI researchers of Team blueXgreen created a proposal to adapt its new wastewater treatment technology that removes phosphorus and nitrogen. The proposal won The Everglades Foundation’s opening phase of the George Barley Water Prize — a four-year, $10 million competition. There were 61 international teams in the global competition’s first phase.

Environmental chemist Greg Moller, soil scientist Daniel Strawn and engineer Martin Baker, all of UI’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, submitted the winning proposal. It was based on the UI-developed N-E-W Tech water treatment process that can reduce phosphorus concentrations in wastewater to far below regulatory requirements.

“We are pleased to win the first round,” Moller said. “We are confident that our process offers a new, sustainable path forward in dealing with a serious pollution problem that leads to major environmental and human health problems across the U.S. and around the world.”

The UI researchers were awarded $487,000 in grants in 2015 from the Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission (IGEM) to develop a prototype of the process on a high-tech trailer. Through testing on campus, at the UI research dairy and at Moscow and Troy’s water treatment plants, the team has conducted large-scale trials with promising results.

A wastewater treatment company based in the United Kingdom has signed an option to license the technology for the European Union, and a U.S. company is currently reviewing licensing opportunities. Their process expands the focus of earlier UI patented water treatment technologies developed by Moller that are in use in Korea, England and the U.S.

The foundation announced the winners of the opening phases during an event today, Dec. 7, on Biscayne Bay in Miami.

The UI team won $5,000 for the first phase, which focused on ideas, and qualified the UI team’s entry for the next round and a $25,000 prize.

The Everglades Foundation’s George Barley Water Prize seeks a solution to the pollution that promotes algae growth in the Everglades, which damages fish and wildlife there and along Florida’s coast. Last summer, Florida officials declared states of emergency in four counties because of the toxic goo.

The N-E-W Tech process adds biochar — tiny bits of activated charcoal — to wastewater to capture nitrogen and phosphorus, which are both valuable agricultural fertilizers. The team is working with Colorado-based biochar manufacturer Cool Planet to enhance the product’s fertilizer value. The UI process also adds ozone to break down toxic compounds and disease agents, including viruses and bacteria.

The wastewater treatment binds the charcoal with the soil, enhancing its fertility and making the process climate-friendly and carbon-negative, Moller said.

The competition includes four stages, beginning with the idea phase. Next up for the teams is laboratory and pilot-scale testing. The contest concludes with the construction of a large-scale plant in Florida. The ultimate winner is scheduled to be chosen in late 2020.

“This international award recognizes UI researchers’ efforts to make a difference in Idaho, the nation and the world through technology development,” said Janet Nelson, UI’s vice president for research and economic development. “Team blueXgreen’s dedication to innovation will benefit them not only as this competition goes forward, but also as they continue to expand the possibilities for reducing pollution using N-E-W Tech.”

The UI research team’s entry includes a video on the Barley Prize website,

Media Contacts:
Greg Moller
Professor of environmental chemistry and toxicology
University of Idaho - Washington State University School of Food Science

Bill Loftus
Science writer
College of Agricultural and Life Sciences

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