UI water-quality team among four finalists in world competition

A University of Idaho team of scientists is among the final four in a competition to purify water by reducing the amount of phosphorus in it.

A University of Idaho team is among four worldwide to advance to the final stage of a $10 million worldwide innovation competition focused on improving water quality.

The Everglades Foundation announced the team of environmental chemist Greg Moller, soil scientist Dan Strawn and mechanical engineer Martin Baker — all from UI — is among finalists for the George Barley Water Prize, awarded to the team demonstrating the best way to remove phosphorous from public waters. Phosphorous causes algae blooms worldwide.

The UI team’s success “speaks to the high quality of originality of their work in this international competition,” UI College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Dean Michael Parrella said in a news release. “Although the different phases of the competition were held outside of Idaho, this technology will help protect Idaho waters.”

UI’s Clean Water Machine, a reactive filtration system, uses biochar, iron oxide and ozone to strip phosphorous from polluted waters, reducing it to extremely low levels. The UI team’s technology is used in the U.S., Great Britain and South Korea.

The competition began in 2015 with a search for new ideas, and the original field included 104 teams from around the world. The UI team consistently ranked highly at each stage.

The final four teams each won $125,000. In the competition’s final phase near Orlando, Fla., teams will spend 14 months treating 1 million gallons of water headed for the Everglades each day to prove the technologies work in warm conditions there.

“We are extremely gratified to join the Everglades Foundation’s quest to find a practical, financially feasible and environmentally friendly fix for a serious problem facing people around the world,” Moller said in the release. “Entering the competition’s final phase will require us to assemble a coalition of our corporate partners and others to show our technology can resolve a widespread threat.”

The UI team and eight others from around the world demonstrated their ideas for solving the phosphorus problem from February to May at an agricultural canal in Ontario, Canada.

UI President Chuck Staben said the Idaho team “exemplifies the creative, collaborative and interdisciplinary approach that is so vital for applied science to address 21st-century challenges for our environment.”

Other finalists are The Netherlands WETSUS EU Water Center, Dutch firm Greenwater Solution Inc. and the U.S. Geological Survey Leetown Science Center.

A team from China is runner-up in case any of the final four teams cannot meet scale-up requirements.



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