The mission of the Environmental Protection Agency is to protect human health and the environment and through its SBIR Program, EPA is looking to support the development and commercialization of technologies that support that mission. While they vary somewhat from year to year, topics are typically focused on EPA core mission areas and include water, air and climate, chemicals, resource recovery and homeland security. Other important focus areas include green manufacturing and materials.
Because the budget for the EPA SBIR program is modest, with an average of about $4.6M a year, all proposals must be responsive to the topics in that year’s solicitation. EPA also has a strong emphasis on commercialization and its goal is to contribute solutions that can truly be implemented. EPA seeks “disruptive technologies” that offer totally new approaches to address solicitation topics. EPA has a preference for “platform” technologies – that is, solutions that have the potential to address many future applications in addition to the one that is funded. EPA also cares about the lifecycle impacts of the technology from manufacture to disposal including source of materials, water and energy use, toxicity of materials and end of life disposal.
The EPA SBIR program issues contracts. There is one solicitation per year, usually released in the spring/summer timeframe. The time allotted for proposal preparation is short, averaging about 45 days. Phase I awards are for up to $100,000 for six months of concept development, while Phase II awards are for up to $300,000 for two years to develop and commercialize the technology. In addition, EPA will provide a $100,000 match for small businesses that can secure third-party investment of $100,000 or more for the commercialization of their technology. To implement this, the Agency requires a “Commercialization Option” under which Phase II offerors submit a proposal for this additional funding documenting the receipt of funds from one or more third-party investors.
The most recent EPA SBIR solicitation included topics related to Air and Climate; Manufacturing; Toxic Chemicals; Water; Water and Homeland Security; and Greener Buildings. Within Air and Climate, the focus was on formaldehyde and methane sensors. Innovative greener manufacturing of plastics was the manufacturing area of interest. The toxic chemical topic focused on cleaner manufacturing of dyes, paints, and inks; as well as novel technologies to help consumers understand the chemical composition of consumer products. The Office of Water has an interest in drinking water treatment, water infrastructure and point of use water monitoring. A related topic is developing a simple lead test for tap water in homes. EPA has been designated as the lead homeland security agency for water and is responsible for protecting water systems. A specific area of interest is innovative technologies that can prevent the trapping by and adhesion of contaminants to the inside of pipe walls. Finally both interior and exterior construction materials are of interest under the rubric of greener buildings. While the broader topics will remain similar, the specific subtopics will change from year to year.
It is important to note that other agencies also fund environmental technologies and that it is wise to consider other agencies as possible funding sources including National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; the United States Department of Agriculture; the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences at HHS and the Department of Energy.
During the past three years EPA made an average of 22 Phase I awards per year. Examples of successful awardees who have brought their technologies to market include Ecovative, which developed mushroom materials to replace hydrocarbon-derived synthetics in packaging, insulation and structural cores. Another successful company is NanoMech, which uses principles of biomimecry to create a chemical free nanostructured coating for cutting tools. NanoMech received an R&D 100 award for their Tufftek product and is also a 2014 Tibbett’s awardee.
EPA is serious about commercialization and therefore provides commercialization assistance to both Phase I and Phase II awardees. If you are interested in learning more about the EPA SBIR program, feel free to contact April Richards, the EPA SBIR program manager.