Pictured: The band listens to speakers at the VPIC Final Update event on Friday, May 20. Courtesy picture.

The program provides a final report on efforts to develop innovative and economically viable phosphorus removal technologies that improve Vermont’s water quality

Vermont Business Magazine The Burnor Farm in Fairfield, Vermont, today hosted visitors and state officials to highlight developments from the Vermont Phosphorus Innovation Challenge (VPIC) and what the future may hold for 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 improve our state’s water quality. VPIC has facilitated the deployment of new technologies to remove phosphorus from our environment and utilize phosphorus residues in value-added post-products. Improved phosphorus management options allow farmers and other land managers to better allocate phosphorus resources on-farm. These methods help prevent excessive phosphorus runoff into the farm’s watershed, making value-added phosphorus materials more easily transported, stored, and applied to crops at the appropriate times.

“Technology and innovation are driving advances that provide more opportunity and flexibility in how farms, municipalities and businesses manage waste streams,” said Laura DiPietro, division director of the water quality at VAAFM. “Getting innovative concepts from ground to prototype and eventually to large scale takes time, energy and capital investment. It’s exciting that VPIC has been able to collaborate and support talented and thoughtful Vermont innovators. These projects have shown us where there are still challenges to overcome and opportunities for better management in the future.

Phosphorus removal technology developed by Agrilab Technologies Inc., a beneficiary of the VPIC program, was on display at Burnor Farm owned by Magnan Brothers Dairy. In association with Magnan Brothers Dairy LLC/Magnan Bros. Fertilizer, Agrilab Technologies Inc. manufactures several farm-made composts and blended products called Franklin County Compost.

Photo: Agrilab/Magnan drying installation and technology developed during the VPIC. Courtesy picture.

“Phosphorus is an essential nutrient for both plant growth and human and animal health. We do know, however, that there are places in Vermont where there is just too much phosphorus,” said Julie Moore, secretary of the Natural Resources Agency. “One of the easiest ways to correct this imbalance is to reuse 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 submitting responses to the Stage One invitation. In the end, three beneficiary candidates continue to work and advance into the final stage of the VPIC. These grantees have taken up 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 phosphorus composting and treatment sites. AGT is committed to establishing market demand for compost 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 produce, as well as the willingness to pay for locally produced fertilizer for use by Vermont farmers in vegetable gardens, specialty crop growers, etc.
  • Digested Organics – Digested Organics engaged in the fabrication and construction of a mobile manure screening and ultrafiltration system for use on a dairy farm in Vermont to remove up to 95% of phosphorus and up to 99% of solids in suspension, and up to 99.9% of pathogens in the slurry. The remaining liquid is ideal for field application and the concentrated fertilizer is easily transportable. By concentrating the phosphorus, this technology allows the farm to apply the phosphorus more economically to more remote and typically low-soil phosphorus land, as well as transport the material to nearby composting 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 developed and tested PePhlo (pronounced P Flow), a mobile, flexible and scalable solution for phosphorus capture and removal. PePhlo applications focus on reducing installation and operating costs without the investment required for conventional “brick and mortar” phosphorus removal approaches. This technology could well prove to be extremely cost effective for phosphorus removal in wastewater applications the size of Vermont.

Photo: Brian Jerose of Agrilab Technologies Inc. gives officials a tour. Courtesy picture.

“In addition to seeking new ways to improve our environment and water quality, this program was also created to give innovators and entrepreneurs the space, time and funding to think about and research new solutions to the phosphorus problems facing the state,” said ACCD Assistant Secretary Tayt Brooks. “Vermont has a long history of businesses that started with a simple innovative idea and achieved regional, national and even global success. Sometimes new ideas just need a little extra attention to fully materialize.

While the VPIC program has released its final funding for the three active projects, the mission and focus that led to these unique results responds to the vision that Governor Scott proposed in 2018.

“These innovative projects not only strengthen our efforts to restore Vermont’s waterways, but also promote economic growth and environmental sustainability,” Governor Scott said. “I am so proud that the vision for this program is coming to fruition with these new Vermont companies who have developed pioneering phosphorus reduction concepts and technologies.

For more details on each VPIC project and a historical view of the program, please visit: https://agriculture.vermont.gov/Vermont_Phosphorus_Innovation_Challenge.