Photo: Group listens to speakers at VPIC final update event Friday, May 20. Courtesy photo.
Program provides final report on efforts to develop innovative, economically viable phosphorus removal technologies that improve Vermont water quality
Vermont Business Magazine The Burnor Farm in Fairfield, Vermont played host today to visitors and state officials to highlight the developments of the Vermont Phosphorus Innovation Challenge (VPIC), and what the future may hold for the technologies and business models that have been developed to date.
Launched in 2018 by Governor Phil Scott, the Vermont Phosphorus Innovation Challenge is an initiative to develop new technologies and practices that help to improve our state’s water quality. VPIC has facilitated the deployment of new technologies for removing phosphorus from our environment and utilizing the phosphorus residuals in value-added post-products. Improving the options for phosphorus management enables farmers and other land managers to better distribute phosphorus resources on the farm. These methods help prevent excess phosphorus runoff into the farm watershed, making the value-added phosphorus materials more readily transported, stored and applied to crops at appropriate times.
“Technology and innovation lead to advances that provide more opportunity and flexibility in how farms, municipalities and businesses manage waste streams,” said Laura DiPietro, Director of the Water Quality Division at VAAFM. “Getting innovative concepts from the ground to proto-type and eventually full scale requires time, energy, and capital investments. It’s exciting that VPIC has been able to collaborate and provide support to talented and thoughtful innovators in Vermont. These projects have shown us where there are still challenges that need to be overcome and the possibilities for better management into the future.”
On display at the Burnor Farm owned by Magnan Brothers Dairy, was the phosphorus removal technology developed by of Agrilab Technologies Inc., a grantee of the VPIC program. Along with the Magnan Brothers Dairy LLC/Magnan Bros. Fertilizer, Agrilab Technologies Inc. is making several farm-made compost and blended products called Franklin County Compost.
Photo: Agrilab/Magnan drying facility and technology developed during VPIC. Courtesy photo.
“Phosphorus is a nutrient, essential both for plant growth and for human and animal health. We know, however, there are locations in Vermont where there is simply too much phosphorus,” said Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore. “One of the most straightforward ways to correct this imbalance is to repurpose excess phosphorus to form value-added products – such as composts and organic fertilizers. And the VPIC program has served as a catalyst for several innovative technologies.”
With an investment of $1.4 million from the state of Vermont, the VPIC program began in 2018 with 12 teams that submitted responses to the Stage One invitation. Ultimately, three applicant grantees continue to work and move forward in the final stage of VPIC. These grantees have addressed the challenge of phosphorus removal in different ways, with promising results:
- Agrilab Technologies Inc. - Agrilab Technologies Inc.’s (AGT) VPIC proposal includes the establishment of a hub and spoke network of five on-farm composting and phosphorus processing sites. AGT has been engaged in establishing the market demand for composted materials created from cow manure, with various combinations of nutrient additives. AGT worked closely with the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund (VSJF) to document the demand for bulk and bagged products, as well as willingness to pay for locally produced fertilizer for use by Vermont farmers, in home gardens, specialty crop growers, etc.
- Digested Organics - Digested Organics has been engaged in the fabrication and construction of a mobile manure screening and ultrafiltration system to be used on a Vermont dairy farm to remove up to 95% of the phosphorus and up to 99% of the suspended solids, and up to 99.9% of pathogens in liquid manure. The remaining liquid is ideal for field application and the concentrated fertilizer is readily transportable. By concentrating phosphorus, this technology allows the farm to apply phosphorus more economically on lands that are further away and typically lower in soil phosphorus, as well as transport the material to nearby compost facilities for stabilization and incorporation into value-added products.
- Village of Essex Junction/University of Vermont - The University of Vermont and the Village of Essex Junction, along with several other partners have developed and been testing PePhlo (pronounced P Flow), a mobile, flexible, and scalable solution for Phosphorus capture and removal. PePhlo applications focuses on reduced installation and operational costs without the investment needed for conventional Phosphorus removal “brick and mortar” approaches. This technology may well prove to be immensely cost effective for Phosphorus removal in Vermont sized wastewater applications.
Photo: Brian Jerose of Agrilab Technologies Inc. provides a tour to officials. Courtesy photo.
“In addition to seeking new ways to better our environment and water quality, this program was also created to give innovators and entrepreneurs the space, time, and funding to think about and seek out new solutions to the phosphorus problems the state faces,” said ACCD Deputy Secretary Tayt Brooks. “Vermont has a long history of businesses that got their start with a simple innovative idea and go on to regional, national, and even global success. Sometimes news ideas just need a little extra attention to become fully realized.”
While the VPIC program has released its final funding to the three active projects, the mission and direction that has resulted in these unique outcomes fulfills the vision that Governor Scott proposed in 2018.
“These innovative projects not only enhance our efforts to restore Vermont’s waterways but also promote economic growth and environmental sustainability,” Governor Scott said. “I’m so proud that the vision of this program is coming to fruition with these new Vermont businesses that have developed pioneering phosphorus reduction concepts and technologies.”
For more details of each VPIC project and a historical view of the program, please visit: https://agriculture.vermont.gov/Vermont_Phosphorus_Innovation_Challenge.