Vermont officials have awarded more than $1 million in grants to companies that are finding ways to extract phosphorus before it gets into waste streams and waterways.
In 2018, the governor’s office launched the Vermont Phosphorus Innovation Challenge – or VPIC - a competition to find new technologies and solutions to reduce and/or eliminate phosphorus runoff and pollution in the state’s waterways and promote economic growth. Governor Phil Scott says most efforts had focused on runoff, but this effort centers on preventing phosphorus at the beginning of the process. “VPIC is a new way of thinking about phosphorus and a new opportunity to solve our nutrient issues by removing phosphorus from the land before it reaches our waters. What’s also unique about this approach is that we’ve harnessed the knowledge and innovation of the private sector.”
Of 27 initial applicants, six received funding to create prototypes. Following review of reports and field visits, Governor Scott announced that $1,151,607 would be awarded to five projects for further development. “Each of these five projects is unique and proposes an effective viable solution to address our phosphorus imbalance.”
That imbalance, according to a 2018 Gund Institute study is 1,500 tons annually. Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore says while phosphorus is an essential nutrient for plant and animal growth there is too much in Vermont’s soil and water. She says one way to reduce it is to repurpose the excess to create products such as compost or organic fertilizers. “I had the opportunity to personally visit a number of the projects this summer and fall and see and even touch the products that are being created by the technologies involved in VPIC. We don’t believe that there’s a singular solution and are thrilled by the range of tools both environmental and economic that are being advanced to Stage 3 of the Phosphorus Innovation Challenge. Stage 3 involves slightly more than a million dollars in funding to further advance technologies that have demonstrated some clear, early and meaningful results in extracting phosphorus up to and including clear pathways for repurposing the phosphorus as part of value added products.”
Agrilab Technologies creates heat by recovering thermal energy during composting. President and co-founder Brian Jerose says he entered the state challenge because he was frustrated over the pace of progress to control phosphorus. “It’s been really motivating to get involved in this progress to try to think of other ways beyond just regulatory compliance and the voluntary best management practices to think of other ways that we can make a bigger dent and a faster dent in some of these phosphorus issues.”
The awards were presented to Agrilab Technologies; DVO, Inc. with the University of Vermont; Green State Biochar; Digested Organics; and the Village of Essex Junction in coordination with the Chittenden Solid Waste District and the University of Vermont.