Student Sustainability Competition

Now for a public service announcement. Yesterday I received a mass-mailer from the EPA asking for help publicizing a sustainability competition. Since this is a topic that's very important to me, I thought I would publish it here. The competition is open to graduate and undergraduate students, and the deadline to apply is December 21st, which is also my birthday. :-)


The P3 Award: People, Prosperity and the Planet A Student Design Competition for Sustainability - Apply by December 21, 2006.

Got an innovative solution that protects the environment while growing the economy? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is sponsoring an exciting environmental design contest for undergraduate and graduate students - The P3 Award. Through this national design competition, students and their faculty advisors submit cutting-edge, sustainable solutions to environmental challenges and compete for $10,000 to develop their designs. Winners from the first phase of the competition advance to the National Sustainable Design Expo in Washington, DC, in the spring of 2008 where they compete for the chance to win up to $75,000 in funding to move their designs to the marketplace or implement them in the field.

Last year, 42 teams were awarded grants, including a team from Oberlin College that designed and tested a low-cost system for observing and interpreting energy and water consumption for individual dorms and college campuses. The project led to the creation of Lucid Design Group, a small business that designs and implements data acquisition and display systems for the green building industry. You can see all the grant winners' designs and ideas at

"P3" stands for People, Prosperity and the Planet. EPA and its partners launched the P3 Award in 2003 to promote innovative thinking for moving the world toward sustainability. Participating college students gain new skills and knowledge as they research, develop, design and implement scientific and technical solutions to environmental challenges.

Teams of undergraduate and/or graduate students at institutions of higher education located in the U.S. are eligible to apply. But time is running out! This year's P3 competition closes on December 21, 2006.

Learn more by visiting Assemble your team and apply today!

Hello R-squared,

This is a great idea.  Hopefully the kids will take a look-see at my pipelined spiderweb-rider ideas.  I think there are a lot of patentable ideas there to save gobs of energy for our postPeak future.

Other ideas of mine:

  1. Some kind of sensing system for refrigerators so that when the house A/C is on, the reefer autovents the heat outside so the A/C unit doesn't have to work harder to remove the added heat.

  2.  It drives me absolutely nuts that millions of streetlamps burn all night trying to get black asphalt to reflect photons.  The kids need to invent a cheap sensing system to only turn the streetlamps on when people are walking about after dark.  Car headlights are sufficient, IMO, for the people motoring around.

  3.  Mandatory greywater toilets for new housing and apartments-- it is STUPID to use drinking water to flush body wastes.  Mandatory urinals in new construction too.

  4.  Some kind of motorized robot that automatically works its way through the fields dragging an irrigation water hose.  It autosenses exactly how much water each plant needs, then only dispenses what is required around the rootball.  This would prevent most river runoff of excessive petroleum-based residues and salty soil buildup.

  5. If cars are now smart enough to parallel-park themselves, they should be smart enough not to allow a nitwit driver to hit bicyclists, motorcyclists, and pedestrians.  The radar-cpu combo should make the car brake & swerve.

  6. Invent Youth Viagra with a Twist: Young adults have an enhanced great time with recreational sex, but any attempts at unprotected procreational sex make the 'chimp go limp'.  No more accidental births from rash 'heat of the moment' impulses.

  7.  Some kind of wearable wi-fi enabled taser-anklet for prisoners to eliminate prisoner-to prisoner beatings, rapes, deaths, and blackmail.  It would activate on the aggressor when he touches another prisoner.  This would also greatly reduce the need for incarceration allowing them the outside freedom to grow their own prison food, and eliminate any thought of prisoner attacks on guards or escape attempts.

  8. Make people choose to walk or bicycle for short trips by having the car's cpu mandatorily release a series of real bad smells into the car's interior compartment for the first 3 miles anytime after an engine is started.  Additionally, make the first 3 miles have really bad gas mileage by the cpu enrichening the gas-flow making the car backfire alot to alert the public you are a wasteful fuel driver.  Lastly, the radio blares at full volume a pre-recorded message to quit driving for short trips interspersed with ear-piecing screams and 'fingernail on chalkboard' sounds to really make your skin crawl.

  9. Water billing rates to exponentially accelerate as acquifers deplete, forcing people to rely on surface runoff.  This will help acquifers to recharge slowly.  Recall my posting on Nevada gold-mining where the Humboldt River disappears because all the water sinks below ground trying to recharge the underlying acquifer.

  10.  Your tax rate is partly based on body-mass index: the more obese you are the higher your tax rate.  This alone should help get people walking and pedaling.

Okey-Dokey, just some ideas to stimulate the kids imagination.  I wish I knew how to engineer-invent some of my ideas, but hopefully the kids will run with it.

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az  Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?  

  1.  Difficult to implement, but a good idea.

  2.  Car headlights are far from sufficient - illuminating something at any distance requires a beam angle that coincidentally blinds oncoming traffic.  Furthermore, a motion sensor approach that turns off, say, any half-mile stretch of road without cars on it, is unfortunately impossible.  The high intensity discharge lamps (10x the efficiency of halogens, and easily focussable using reflectors) used in streetlamps are notoriously averse to on/off cycles - it takes a good half hour for the low pressure sodium lamps at the parking lot I use to warm up to usable temperature, and another half hour to cool down after shutting off to the point that they can be restarted without bursting from the heat load(sounds contradictory, but extremely high temperatures are involved).

  3.  These should be implemented, and in the near-desert majority of the American West, could (politically) be implemented this moment if you pitch the right people.

  4.  Drip irrigation is one of the essential techniques in green/lowenergy agriculture.  Subsurface water carriers are another.  Putting the water directly into the ground without any opportunity for evaporation, six inches from the plant it's targetting, is loads more efficient than spraying it into the air.  Underground, it can then catch on a buried drainpipe section and remain there saturating the soil until the plant's rootstructure reaches it.

  5.  Auto-brake(collision detection) can and is used now, but it' a race between dangerously preempting the driver for longer range threats that the driver is steering around, and not having the stopping distance to avoid a collision.  Auto-Swerving is of questionable legality, as it can easily cause an accident in and of itself.

  6.  Fantasy of biology.  Never gonna happen.
  7.  While tasers should be considered semilethal force, a much lower voltage stun gun placed in an ankle bracelet could be implemented as you say to great success.   A prisoner who can't stand up because of calf convulsions is a prisoner who can't continue a fight, without needing to have a guard confrontation or firearms involved.

We could very easily end most of the violence that happens in a prison using existing, cheap surveillance tech.  It's a cultural problem, not a technical one.  We rely on prison violence and rape as a part of the threat of a prison term.

I think a much more important development is decriminalizing nonviolent drug offenses.

  1.  Fantasy of human nature.  Never gonna happen.  In other news, emergency sirens have showed particularly good efficiency when playing tracks involving chopped up human screams.

  2.  This is how the price of depletable resources is supposed to work in a sufficiently large free market.  Utilities, however, are neither.  Good luck getting it accepted in the political arena.

  3. Not gonna happen, and besides, not needed:  the overweight and obese already pay more for personal transportation, insurance, etc.
Hello Squalish,

Thxs for the informative reply.

I think you have a winner with 3), btw - it could shave off perhaps 10% of daily water use in areas that import water at great expense.
Mandating that all toilet water comes from greywater could also be combined with things like a 'urinal flush' lever, and be granted an exemption on the 3.5-5 gallon toilet ban in the US, which is incredibly annoying and doesn't really save that much water - it just makes you flush your statutory 1.6 gallon toilet twice or three times.
please review driver's ed 101
Supplementing the other good answers:

#3 - Mandatory urinals?  So, if it's purchased by a woman who lives alone or only with other women, she has to keep this piece of useless plumbing?  (Male guests?  Big deal - you're STILL requiring a square meter of floorspace for insignificant use.)  I'll even add to this wtf remark - go into the bathroom in most houses and try to figure out where you're going to put a urinal.  Unless you're buying a somewhat upper scale house, bathroom space already has dense utilization.

#7 (both totoneila and squalish) I highly recommend you spend some time working in a prison before you make blithe assumptions as you've just done.  Let's start with the practical:
a) How do you intend to keep this bracelet charged?  Remember it's got to be sensing other bracelets 100% of the time.
b) Sensing - how do you avoid false discharges?  Given that some of the inmates will be working around heavy machinery, there are times when falling with an uncontrollable calf spasm would be a very bad idea.
c) So you've solved the power and sensing problem, now how do you keep this bracelet on the inmate?  (If the answer in any way involved surgery, stop and re-evaluate.)  This one is REAL important.  Inmates make weapons out of things you would not believe.  Please remember that for the inmate time is not an issue.  So what you're doing is giving the inmate a single-shot stunner.  If he can get it off he can use it on someone else - like a correctional officer/guard.
d) Note in c I said single-shot.  Actually, one stun charge is probably not going to be enough.  First shot causes a cramp.  Unless response is immediate, the inmate can compensate and recover and continue with the action.  So what you actually need is multi-shot, except now you've put a multi-shot weapon in the hands of the inmate facing the officers.
e) off the stunner, on to a comment from Squalish - Yes, with a lot more surveillance and several other techniques many of the problems could be severely reduced.  Not eliminated - sorry - but certainly severely curtailed.  The big problem with this is money.  The second largest problem is politics.  sigh SOME prisons rely on inmate violence as part of their control.  MOST prisons (at least in the US) do not.  Trust me on this, I spent long enough working in that field to know this.  The primary problem with inmate violence is that violence unleashed is difficult to control - which in turn means it splashes on the prison staff.  There are other very expensive problems with using misbehavior as a behavioral control as well - expensive in social and monetary terms.  There are a lot of problems with the so-called correctional system, but most of them are the result of having to deal with people.  (Mencken is RIGHT.  Any obvious and simple solution to a human problem is almost certainly wrong.)

Pardon my cynicism, but this is the policy equivalent of the Michael Jackson Moonwalk.
It creates the illusion of forward motion while going backwards.
Raising the CAFE by 0.1 mpg would doing than this Dog & Pony show.
It creates the illusion of forward motion while going backwards.

Raising the CAFE by 0.1 mpg would doing than this Dog & Pony show.

This contest is for students, who will be tasked with solving these sustainability issues. I think this is a great way to get them started thinking about these problems. Nobody is suggesting they are going to solve longstanding sustainability issues, but we need to encourage the next generation to start thinking about them.

Pity this is both so small and so limited.

By the way, while we are on such a related topic...

Has anyone ever bothered to recognize the efforts of Felix Kramer and the Calcars group?

Please tell me, is there ANY other group that has done so much so quickly to completely revolutionize thinking about transportation, grid based transportation, efficiency possibilities that only a few years ago would have been considered completely impossible, and to build a road forward that could change the paradigm of transportation energy?  (yeah, yeah, for you cynics out there, it's that buzz word "paradigm shift", but guess what?  They really do occur, it's just that the words have been so abused and overused, that no one can now recognize a real one when it does occur!)

In years to come, these people and this car...
wll be seen as a historic moment, and books and movies will be made about the "moment" of the revolution, just as they are now made about the "homebrew computer club" and the longhaired geeks Gates, Jobs, and Wozniak.  This revolution will be that big, and bigger.  At least some small recognition of the work they have done would be in order, and if there were justice in the world, the Presidential Medal of Freedom would not be out of the question....(too much you say?  Consider some of this last years winners...Carol Burnett, Aretha Franklin, Andy Griffith, Paul Harvey, Jack Nicklaus....), by the way, this begs an interesting quesion:  Has anyone EVER been recognized for efforts to improve American energy efficiency?  Gee, wonder why it doesn't get more effort....?

This gives me one more chance to sing the praises of the people who really "make it happen", not the policy wonks in the expensive suits, not the think tankers like CERA and the whatever whatever forums on Energy Policy, or sorry, not even the hand wringers at the various "Peak oil I told ya' so" groups or the Kunstler/Heinberg RUN FOR THE HILLS, SUBURBIA IS SO FVCKED!!
The real action is in the shops, among the somewhat plump, often balding Wal-Mart designer label gang in jeans and cotton shirt and payless shoes, the grunts that have actually had a wrench and or a voltmeter in hand, and know what they actually are used for...that is the group that will make the changes, the group whose efforts are always discounted as "can't be done" even years after they have already done it....a handful of these guys can throw the projections of the "thinktankers" in the garbage...and the thinktankers know it...
as the man said in the first talkie...."You ain't seen nothin' yet!"  :-)

Roger Conner  known to you as ThatsItImout
(by the way of disclaimer and full disclosure, just so everyone knows, I am not, have never been affiliated with Calcars, am not involved or invested with any Calcars partner and stand nothing to gain from their work, any more than any other citizen of the modern world, that is, and have never met any member of the group personally, in fact, have never been to California....I just know good work when I see it....:-)