Finalists named in $10 million Barley Prize to remove phosphorus from water


After more than two years of testing their technologies in laboratories and in the Lake Simcoe watershed, the four finalists in the George Barley Water Prize – a $10 million incentive award to find a new technology capable of removing phosphorus from water supplies – were announced on October 24, in Toronto, Ontario.

For a 90-day stretch (February – May 2018), nine teams of scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs – narrowed down from an original field of 104 international competitors –tested their technologies under cold weather conditions on the Holland Marsh, an agricultural and wetland area 50 km north of Toronto.

The finalist teams are: The University of Idaho’s Clean Water Machine; Wetsus NAFRAD, based in the Netherlands; Green Water Solution, Inc., based in Wellington, Florida; and the United States Geological Survey at Leetown Science Center. Each team was rewarded $125,000 and will advance to the “Grand Challenge”, the final phase of the competition at Lake Jesup, near Orlando, Florida.

“At Lake Jesup, the four finalists will engage in 14 months of intensive field testing under moderate and warm weather conditions,” said Eric Eikenberg, CEO of the Everglades Foundation, which hosts the competition. “These final four teams will need to prove their technologies’ ability to work in both freezing and warm temperatures. This will be their opportunity to showcase the global applicability of their solutions.”

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Modelled after the incentive prizes that encouraged Charles Lindbergh to make the first nonstop trans-Atlantic, the George Barley Water Prize is a $10 million award to the team that can develop a safe, effective and affordable method to remove phosphorus from waterways on a large scale. The Prize is named after the late George Barley, one of the two founders of The Everglades Foundation.

Phosphorus is essential for plant growth and human health (it is second only to calcium as the most common mineral found in the human body) and is widely used in chemical fertilizers. In waterways, however, it nurtures the growth of algae that is killing fish and spoiling water quality worldwide.

“Stage 3 marked a turning point in the Barley Prize competition, bringing innovations into the real world for testing,” said Jim King, President of the Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation, which sponsors the Prize. “While our Company removed phosphorus from routine lawn products a number of years ago, The Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation continues to stand behind this race for a solution to phosphorus pollution as it enters its final stage–a chance to solve this global problem, once and for all.”

Runoff from man’s long-standing use of phosphorus-based fertilizers is so extensive, scientists believe, that even if its use were to be eliminated altogether, there is so much of the mineral already stored in water and soil that it would continue to be a serious pollutant, creating algae blooms for decades, if not centuries, to come.

“Using today’s technologies, it would cost upward of $3 trillion to reduce the current worldwide flow of phosphorus by just 10%,” explained Loren Parra, Director of the Barley Prize. “Living and working here in Florida, we could certainly benefit from a solution and we are excited, hopeful and anxious to see what comes from the Grand Challenge.”

About the finalist teams

University of Idaho – Clean Water Machine

University of Idaho Team
The University of Idaho – Clean Water Machine team.

Clean Water Machine from the University of Idaho uses an innovative reactive filtration system that uses biochar (an activated charcoal), an iron-oxide adsorption filter, and ozone to both remove phosphorus to extremely low levels and also produce byproducts that can help food production.


Wetsus NAFRAD team
The Wetsus NAFRAD team.

Wetsus, a European Center of Excellence for sustainable water technologies based in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands, has developed a technology that uses advanced filtration, flocculation, and high-capacity adsorption on a special granular iron-oxide material to push effluent phosphorus levels to extremely low levels, while producing calcium phosphate, an inorganic fertilizer, as a byproduct.

Greenwater Solution, Inc.

Greenwater Solution, Inc. Team
The Greenwater Solution team.

Green Water Solution, Inc., a private enterprise based in Wellington, Florida, has developed a proprietary technology, BioPhree(c) an environmentally inert system that can remove phosphorus to 10 parts per billion even with very high inputs. The process is scalable, and has been applied in industrial and municipal settings.

U.S. Geological Survey – Leetown Science Center

U.S. Geological Survey Team
The U.S. Geological Survey – Leetown Science Center team.

The United States Geological Survey at Leetown Science Center in Kearneysville, West Virginia, developed a method for removing phosphorus using mine drainage ochre to develop an iron-oxide filtration bed. Besides turning a waste product from mining into a valuable resource, the method can produce a phosphate fertilizer that is completely useable.

About the George Barley Water Prize

The George Barley Water Prize is hosted by The Everglades Foundation in association with the Scott’s Miracle-Gro Foundation as presenting sponsor, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Chicago Community Trust, the Knight Foundation, the Field Museum, and Xylem, Inc.

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