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Advanced Septic System Nitrogen Sensor Challenge- Phase II: Prototype Development and Testing

About the Challenge
Engineer Groundbreaking Sensor Technology for Advanced Septic Systems

Posted By: Environmental Protection Agency
Category: Scientific/Engineering
Partners: U.S. Geological Survey, The Nature Conservancy, Barnstable County and Massachusetts Alternative Septic System Test Center, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, New York State Department of Health (and Suffolk County NY Department of Health Services). Battelle Memorial Institute and VerifiGlobal are supporting US EPA and the Challenge under US EPA Contract #EP-C-16-014.
Skill: Engineering Interest: Ecosystems Partnership With: United States Geological Survey
Submission Dates: 10 a.m. ET, Dec 18, 2017 - 11:59 p.m. ET, Feb 29, 2020

Check out the VerifiGlobal website (and scroll down) to register for the July 16th, 2018 informational webinar!

Conventional on-site wastewater treatment systems, or OWTS, (also referred to as septic systems) are not designed to remove nitrogen to the extent required for avoiding harmful algal blooms and for protecting and restoring many productive and valuable marine and coastal waters. Successfully removing nitrogen to address these concerns may require use of more advanced technology in OWTS. Regulatory officials recognize the benefit and value of solutions that remove high nitrogen levels but need more confidence in the long-term performance of I/A OWTS technologies before approving their use. Effective long term management of I/A nitrogen removal OWTS requires data that provides a real- time indication of proper functioning over the lifetime of the treatment system. A sensor which can measure the nitrogen concentration in I/A OWTS effluent coupled with real time reporting would give regulators, managers, communities and homeowners improved ability to assure systems are working properly, optimize their performance, and maintain these technologies over their lifetime, as well as provide the information needed to assess the effectiveness of restoration actions on receiving waters. Cost effective verification of system performance through use of a nitrogen sensor will protect public health and the environment, provide data to confirm and revise estimates of watershed-wide nutrient loadings, allow for more accurate models of nitrogen impact on receiving waters, and offer evidence of reasonable return on investment for homeowners and communities.

The ideal sensor would provide accurate measurement of total nitrogen in I/A OWTS effluent, effluent flowrate, include telemetry, be self-calibrating or require infrequent calibration, last 10 years, require no more than 1 maintenance visit per year and cost the homeowner less than $1,000. Such an ideal technology may not be possible. At a minimum, a sensor would provide accurate measurement of nitrate (NO-3) and ammonium (NH+4), effluent flowrate, be easily accessed and maintained (no more than four maintenance visits per year), require infrequent calibration, last 5 years and cost less than $1,500. Because Total Nitrogen is composed of organic and inorganic fractions, measuring NO-3 and NH+4 may significantly underestimate Total Nitrogen. To address this, the near-ideal sensor would measure NO-3 and NH+4, as well as Total Organic Carbon (TOC). The TOC value would be used to estimate Organic Nitrogen using an empirically-derived value of the nitrogen content of the TOC.

Phase I of the Challenge requested submissions of sensor designs having the capabilities discussed above, and awards were given at the June 29, 2017 Sensor Showcase Day.

Phase II, the Prototype Testing Program, will be managed by EPA. EPA will first seek submissions of functioning prototypes for testing and evaluation. EPA selected Battelle Memorial Institute (Battelle) to support the development of a Test/Quality Assurance Plan and Verification Protocol (T/QAP) and oversee the testing of the sensor prototypes. Phase II testing will be completed at the Massachusetts Alternative Septic System Test Center (MASSTC), a National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) certified test facility in Barnstable, Massachusetts, in 2018. Pursuant to the Agency’s authority under sections 104(a) and (b) of the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1254(a) and (b), EPA has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with MASSTC to memorialize this cooperative relationship. Battelle will collaborate with VerifiGlobal on the verification to ensure compliance with ISO ETV 14034.

Battelle has convened a Technical Panel to provide the technical input and expertise necessary to develop an effective verification protocol and T/QAP based on the ISO ETV Standard 14034.  The Technical Panel includes experts from EPA, US Geological Survey (USGS), the Alliance for Coastal Technologies, the University of Maryland, the New England Onsite Wastewater Training Program at the University of Rhode Island (URI), the MASSTC, onsite regulators from MA and Suffolk County NY, the National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association (NOWRA – onsite wastewater manufacturers are members of this association), the New York State Center for Clean Water Technology at Stony Brook University, and other university engineering programs.

The Challenge

EPA selected Battelle Memorial Institute (Battelle) to support the Prototype Testing Program by developing a Test/Quality Assurance Plan (T/QAP) and Verification Plan and overseeing the testing of the sensors. The T/QAP is based on the International Organization for Standardization Environmental Technology Verification (ETV) Standard – ISO 14034. Funding for the testing program is from the US EPA Office of Research and Development and the Office of Water/Wastewater Management.

Sensor testing will be conducted at the Massachusetts Alternative Septic System Test Center (MASSTC), a National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) certified test facility in Barnstable, Massachusetts in 2018-19. Under the new schedule, sensor developers will have the opportunity to test their sensor twice during the one-month tests, which will be held in October 2018 and January 2019. Each one-month test will include the one-week screening test during the first 7 days.

Developers whose sensors are judged to be capable of meeting minimum performance goals based on their one-week screening results will be invited to participate in an extensive 6-month field performance test. Battelle will verify the results of the field performance tests based on the VerifiGlobal Performance Verification Protocol and the requirements of the ISO 14034 ETV standard.

New Phase II Testing Schedule press release

Go here to read a press release about the testing schedule for Phase II of the Advanced Septic System Nitrogen Sensor Challenge. We will need to update this link with one for the new press release.

Informational Webinar 

An informational webinar will be held on Monday, July 16, 2018. The upcoming webinar and documents relating to the challenge can be found here (scroll to the bottom of the page). The Challenge is open to all who wish to enter! Page

Visit the posting here.

Timeline for Phase II

  • July 16, 2018 – Webinar on the T/QAP, the testing process and the application
  • August 31, 2018 – Deadline for submission of testing applications for the October 2018 one-month test.  Instructions to submit can be found on the cover page of the application.
  • October 1, 2018 – One-month test at MASSTC
  • December 7, 2018 – Deadline for submission of testing applications for the January 2019 one-month test.  Instructions to submit can be found on the cover page of the application.
  • January 7, 2019 – One-month test at MASSTC
  • Mid-May – Mid-November 2019 – Six-month field performance testing at MASSTC for the selected sensors
  • Late February 2020 – ISO ETV 14034 verification reports and statements completed

Sensor Performance Goals

Prize: Verification Report and 2019 Market Stimulation Opportunity

Following the release of the verification reports in early 2019, an external technical panel and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) will review the results. TNC and others are seeking funding for an order of 200 units, not to exceed a total cost of $300,000. The order would be presented in the summer of 2019 to the best performing sensor/s that completes the 6-month field performance test and meets or exceeds the performance goals.


International Standards Organization (ISO) Environmental Technology Verification (ETV) 14034 Verification Report and Statement The Challenge Phase II prizes will be ISO ETV 14034 verification reports and statements posted on the VerifiGlobal website. EPA has committed funds to support up to three verification reports and statements. The value of each verification report is approximately $47,268 in testing and verification services. If a sensor technology developer independently approached VerifiGlobal and Battelle and asked for ISO ETV 14034 verification of their sensor, the cost would be close to $100,000 for one sensor without the benefits of the Challenge Phase II Prototype Testing Program.
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Any technology/sensor developer is eligible to participate. Check the schedule for submission dates.

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