As part of its People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) program, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has awarded 43 grants for a total of $890,000 to student teams representing 40 universities in 24 states, according to a recent EPA press release. The P3 program helps demonstrate that protecting the environment can also be economically profitable, and provides technical assistance in moving the developed and developing world toward sustainability.

A team from Appalachian State University is designing a coffee wastewater treatment system that produces ethanol and bio-gas for possible use as car fuels. Gonzaga University students are building an educational center and dormitory in Kenya, where students will learn how to implement sustainable water filtering technology and identify local energy sources.

Students from the University of California-Davis, one of the 2008 P3 Award winners, designed and constructed an efficient means of producing plastic from wastewater. Bacteria used in wastewater treatment processes have been shown to store a compound that can be made into a biodegradable plastic within their cell walls. The production process to create it is less polluting than the process to create plastic from petrochemicals.

An American Association for the Advancement of Science panel will evaluate the projects and make recommendations to EPA, who will choose the winners. The P3 Award includes the possibility of additional funding up to $75,000 that gives students an opportunity to further develop their sustainable designs and move them to the marketplace. The next P3 Award Competition will be held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., as part of the National Sustainable Design Expo, April 18-20, 2009.