Virginia University Students Leading the Way in Sustainable Design

Virginia University Students Leading the Way in Sustainable Design

University students from Virginia are turning heads with their innovative sustainability solutions at the Environmental Protection Agency’s P3 event. P3, which stands for People, Prosperity, and the Planet, is a competition that provides $15,000 grants to college students to develop a sustainable design idea. Teams then bring their idea to a competition hosted on the National Mall in Washington, DC for a chance to win an additional $90,000 grant to develop the concept for real world application.


This year’s is the 9th annual expo, and features teams from James Madison, Virginia Tech, and Radford Universities. James Madison’s team has developed a system to turn agricultural waste and wood-based products into biochar, a charcoal-like substance that is added to the soil to provide nutrients for plants and help prevent runoff. The biochar produces several benefits for farmers: it recycles waste materials into a useful substance; adds nutrients to the soil for healthier crops; captures and stores carbon, preventing its release into the atmosphere; and waste heat from the conversion process contributes to solar water heating, reducing the farm’s electricity use. JMU’s concept is already benefitting four farms in the Shenandoah Valley and helping protect the Chesapeake Bay watershed.


Virginia Tech’s team developed a more efficient and sustainable system to wash eggs. With the rise of pastured egg production, there is a critical need for egg washers on small-scale farm operations. Virginia Tech’s system features a conveyor belt that moves the eggs through an underwater channel. The water holds the key breakthrough; the team discovered that by reducing the water pressure, little bubbles form on the egg shells that naturally whisk away dirt and germs. The eggs come out clean without the need for chemicals, and the automated system is both energy efficient and can clean eggs much more quickly than the systems small farmers currently use.

Finally, Radford University’s team discovered an economical method for purifying water. By binding sugars to ordinary sand and immersing it in the water, the sugar-sand compound captures heavy metals and other contaminants that would otherwise make water unsafe for drinking. The sand is then easily filtered back out, leaving clean, safe water. Radford’s team is looking for ways to make the system easily replicable so that it can be reproduced in low-income areas across the world.

Virginians can be proud of the breakthroughs its university students are making in sustainable and energy saving design. Keep checking back on our blog and social media channels to learn more about ways Virginians are taking steps to reduce our energy footprint. You can also visit our Energy Efficient Home Showcase to see what your neighbors are doing to save!