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UMass Lowell Student Team Recognized by EPA for Sustainable Environmental Solutions

Release Date: 06/19/2013
Contact Information: David Deegan, (617) 918-1017

(Boston, Mass. – June 19, 2013) – A Massachusetts college was among seven university and college teams nationwide that received an award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for innovative solutions to some of today’s toughest public health and environmental challenges.

The University of Massachusetts Lowell will receive up to $90,000 as a winner of EPA’s People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) award. The funds are given to help students further develop their design and potentially bring it to the marketplace. Previous P3 award winners have started successful businesses and are globally marketing their technologies.

The University of Massachusetts Lowell won the funding for its project creating nontoxic, biodegradable surfactants from fruit peels and algae, and testing how they are effective. A surfactant is the chemical used in soaps, inks and many other products to reduce the surface tension between the product and a surface and make it apply more easily.

“This award helps inspire a new generation of scientists and engineers to create solutions to complex environmental problems,” said Curt Spalding, regional administrator for EPA’s New England office. “UMass Lowell students are playing a leadership role applying their ideas to real world situations and playing a part in protecting the environment in a more sustainable way.”

"The EPA's support for this research on surfactants will allow UMass Lowell students to continue promising work to convert plant-based material into products that can eventually replace toxic ingredients in cleaning products globally," said Ramaswamy Nagarajan, associate professor of plastics engineering at UMass Lowell and the students’ adviser. "Surfactants are cleaning agents in millions of everyday products such as household detergents, personal care products and industrial cleaners. Unfortunately, some of the surfactants used commercially are either non-biodegradable or degrade into toxic products, and many are petroleum-based. University of Massachusetts Lowell students have developed a process to convert polysaccharides from fruit-peel waste or algae into 'greener' and safer surfactants.”

Other winners of this year’s awards are:

• Loyola University of Chicago for developing a greener way, through a wetland and a distillation process, to treat and reuse byproducts of biodiesel.
• Radford University for designing a naturally-occurring coating that would allow sand to absorb water pollutants, such as arsenic and cadmium.
• San Jose State University for using saw dust instead of plastic to create inexpensive building materials, customized for local climates, with 3D printer technology.
• Georgia Southern University for further innovating the Low Temperature Combustion diesel engine, to operate on locally sourced n-buthanol and cottonseed oil; thus designing a diesel engine that could create even lower NOx and soot emissions.
• Cornell University for designing a simple, low-cost, lower-maintenance water filtration device for Honduras communities, using a stacked-rapid sand filter.
• Cornell University for evaluating and improving cookstove fuel resources in Kenyan communities, by burning solid fuel without oxygen, which can create biochar for soil enrichment.

This year’s competition featured approximately 300 student innovators showcasing their sustainable projects designed to protect people’s health, the environment, encourage economic growth, and use natural resources more efficiently. A panel of expert judges convened by the American Association for the Advancement of Science recommended the winners out of 45 teams following two days of judging. The teams that competed this year proposed potential solutions to worldwide environmental problems including in many developing countries.

Every year, the National Sustainable Design Expo features EPA’s P3 competition and also highlights other sustainable initiatives, programs and technologies developed and implemented by nonprofit organizations, government, and state agencies. This year’s expo was co-sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers and Engineers without Borders, USA.

More information on the P3 award competition: www.epa.gov/p3/2013winners

More information on the P3 program: http://www.epa.gov/P3/

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