New Thinking: The Phosphorus Innovation Challenge

Here’s the question: What if, rather than waiting to manage phosphorus after it hits the ground, we capture it from manure before application?

To address this question, Governor Phil Scott’s team is looking at things differently. During the Governor’s budget address to Vermont and the Legislature Tuesday, he outlined the Phosphorus Innovation Challenge.

Governor Phil Scott:

“The key to cleaning up our lakes and waterways is reducing the amount of phosphorous flowing into them. Right now, we’re using a 20th Century strategy, building infrastructure to capture phosphorus. It is estimated this will cost taxpayers more than a billion dollars over the next 20 years, which doesn’t even include maintenance and upgrade costs. I believe there is a more innovative solution – one that creates economic growth by generating revenue and jobs and could be exported to places struggling with this very same challenge. There is a large market for phosphorous in the energy, fertilizer and compost industries, and manufacturers purchase phosphorous and raw organic materials for their products.”

Working with the Agency of Agriculture, the Agency of Natural Resources and the Agency of Commerce & Community Development, Vermont is seeking an innovation solution to the challenge of mitigating phosphorous that may also create a business opportunity.  The state will continue to deploy aggressive conservation measures to manage excess phosphorous in manure once it has been applied to the land while also working on a new approach.

Here is the new thinking: 

  • Incentivize creation of a commercial operation that captures excess phosphorus (from manure) before it is applied to the land and convert it to a saleable product.
  • Determine a market for the extracted phosphorus.
  • Generate an economic value and grow jobs surrounding extracted phosphorus.

Governor Phil Scott:

“My administration is exploring how the State can help create a commercial enterprise that captures a large amount of Vermont’s excess phosphorus and convert it into a wholesale or retail product. We’ll soon be looking to harness the imagination and competitive nature of entrepreneurs, scientists and inventors, seeking proposals for the most efficient and commercially viable ways to segregate, process, package and sell phosphorus. This is the kind of creative thinking we need to solve this problem, and I invite you to join with us in this effort,” said Governor Phil Scott in his speech to lawmakers.

To support this effort, the State will launch “The Reverse Pitch”:

  • Invite entrepreneurs, scientists and inventors to propose the most efficient and commercially viable “P-Project” to capture, process, package and sell excess phosphorus.
  • Phase 1 - Open the “Reverse Pitch” -- an invitation to submit written proposals/applications to the State for “proof of concept” seed money.
  • Phase 2 - Select 3-to-5 “P-Projects” for proof of concept development grants. Each winner would receive $50,000 in proof of concept funding.
  • Phase 3 - Evaluate proof of concept prototypes and select the team(s) to invest in.  Investment would be scalable based on the benefits provided by the “P-Project”.
  • State and 3rd-party advisors interested in the success of the “P-Project” will review all project submissions.

Historically, government at all levels has been reactive in responding to water quality issues and challenges. In this case, we look at ways to mitigate the impact of phosphorus once it is on the ground. We need to transition reactive response to proactive prevention – taking control and making things happen.  

READ Governor Scott's full budget address.