The state is spending more than $1 million to jumpstart technologies aimed at removing phosphorus from the environment. The money will go to five projects, selected as part of the state's "phosphorus innovation challenge," designed to capture the pollutant and make it into a marketable product.
Phosphorus is an essential element plant and animals need to grow, but too much phosphorus running off into Vermont's waterways acts as a fertilizer and fuels toxic algae blooms.
The state has a huge phosphorus surplus: Vermont releases about 1,500 tons of excess phosphorus a year, according to Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore.
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The state's phosphorus innovation challenge was announced back in February 2018. These five recently selected projects will make a dent, Moore said, but won't cut all the excess phosphorus out of Vermont's environment.
"Ultimately we need to be able to get that 1,500 tons down to zero, or ideally maybe a small negative number, to achieve our overall water quality goals," Moore said. "The scope and scale of these projects, while operating at a commercial scale, we don't believe collectively will be able to achieve that full 1,500 tons reduction."
But Moore said she's hopeful that if these businesses grow, they could ultimately lead to significant phosphorus reductions.
"To the extent they continue to prove successful environmentally but also economically [there's] opportunity to scale them up further with that 1,500-ton goal in mind," she said.
Agrilab Technologies, in Enosburg Falls, was one of the state's five winners and received a $320,200 grant. Company founder Brian Jerose is working on ways to concentrate phosphorus from cow manure, add other material and turn it into compost that can be sold.
Jerose said he was inspired to work on the project in part because his family has experienced Lake Champlain water pollution.
"I've had my wife and daughters and I not be able to swim at times because of algae blooms in parts of northern Lake Champlain," Jerose said. "With that in mind, it's been really motivating to get involved 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."
In addition to Agrilab Technologies, four other winners were announced Thursday at Gov. Phil Scott's weekly news conference:
- The University of Vermont and DVO Inc. of Chilton, Wisconsin — This project got a $500,00 grant to use enhanced anaerobic digesters on dairy farms to produce a phosphorus "cake" that is high in phosphorus and other nutrients. The material will then be marketed as a soil amendment or fertilizer.
- Green State Biochar in Barton, Vermont — The company will use a $135,000 grant to build a larger kiln to produce biochar that will then be used in various filtration systems to capture phosphorus that can then be reused.
- Digested Organics in Ann Arbor, Michigan — The $137,500 grant will fund a mobile filtration system capable of processing manure from about 100 dairy cows. The mobile unit could move from farm to farm.
- Village of Essex Junction, UVM and Chittenden Solid Waste District — The $58,907 grant will help fund technology designed to enhance phosphorus removal from wastewater.