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Appalachian students receive $75,000 EPA P3 sustainability award

asuepateam_t.jpgBOONE—Students from the Department of Technology at Appalachian State University have received a two-year $75,000 EPA P3 (People, Prosperity and the Planet) Award to continue work on a project to convert biomass into a usable by-product that can produce fuel to warm greenhouses.

The EPA P3 competition encourages students to develop technological and scientific solutions to protect human health and the environment. A total of 42 teams from across the country competed for the awards during the 6th Annual National Sustainable Design Expo on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

The students’ project is titled “Biomass Gasification for Agricultural Energy Sources and Soil Enrichment.”
The award will support their work to further develop and implement their project design and move it to the marketplace.
“We were very excited and honored to receive the award,” said graduate student Michael Uchal who was a lead investigator for the project.

“There was a lot of good competition there from Ivy league and larger research institutions. We realize the real work now begins.”

Working with local community partner Bucky Black of Resource Wood Inc., and California manufacturer All Power Labs, the students are developing an affordable combined heat, power and biochar system that uses agricultural byproducts, such as woodchips, to produce electricity, heat and a soil enrichment substance for small-scale crop production in greenhouses during cold months. The system also would enable communities to supply their own food during winter months using sustainably grown crops and local renewable energy.

Farmers using the system could connect to the power grid, thereby providing an additional revenue stream from the production of electricity. The farmer could also recover the heat generated by the system and use it to create an efficient growing environment within a greenhouse. The system also produces biochar, a soil amendment which functions like an organic battery to store nutrients that otherwise leach out of the soil.

“Now the real work begins,” Uchal said. “We will continue to take the technology we have developed, put it through rigorous testing, and build upon our partnerships with local community members and All Power Labs who will help take our design to market. In two years, we will demonstrate everything we have done to the EPA.”

The work also will pass on to a new set of graduate and undergraduate students in the Department of Technology as many of the 2009-10 team will be graduating.

Students participating in the competition were Uchal, Eric Urban, Daniel Law, Ethan Labowitz, Landon Williams, Zack Hobbs, Asher Flynt and Heather Kinsey. Their faculty advisors are Drs. David Domermuth, John H. Martin, Susan Doll, Jim Houser and Brian Raichle, all from Appalachian’s Department of Technology, and Drs. Eva Gonzales and Mike Madritch from the Department of Biology.

“Much of the credit for this award goes to a larger group,” Domermuth said. “Mari Hoepfl, graduate coordinator, has worked diligently for many years to develop the department’s graduate program to a place of national recognition. Department chair Jeff Tiller, Jeff Ramsdell, Dennis Scanlin and many others, created a research environment that encouraged and fostered our success.”

The student team received an initial $9,991 award in September 2009 during the first phase of the EPA P3 competition to develop their concept and advance to the design expo.

“Sustainable innovations like the ones created by our P3 Award winners are the environmental and economic future of our nation.  In fields from agriculture to architecture to energy production, sustainability is the true north on the path ahead,” said Paul T. Anastas, assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

“Innovations like these keep our country competitive and healthy. Congratulations to our winners, and to everyone who participated, for their efforts to create scientific and technological innovations that will lead us into a sustainable future,” he said.

Other winners of this year’s awards are Harvard University, Clemson University, Texas A&M University, Humboldt State University,  Clarkson University (two teams), Cornell University,

UNC Chapel Hill, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Roger Williams University, Virginia Tech, N.C. Agricultural and Technical State University and Drexel University.

Support for the competition includes more than 40 partners in the federal government, industry, and scientific and professional societies. This year’s expo was cosponsored by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE).

For more information on the P3 Award competition, visit

Information about the EPA’s sustainability research program is online at