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Informational Only

This challenge is no longer accepting new submissions.

EEFs: Environmental and Agronomic Challenge

This Challenge aims to identify existing Enhanced Efficiency Fertilizers (EEFs) currently on or near-market that meet or exceed certain environmental and agro-economic criteria.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Type of Challenge: Ideas, Scientific
Partner Agencies | Federal: U.S. Department of Agriculture
Partner Agencies | Non-federal: The Fertilizer Institute, International Fertilizer Development Center, The Nature Conservancy, The National Corn Growers Association
Submission Start: 08/26/2020 09:00 AM ET
Submission End: 10/30/2020 11:59 PM ET



Nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers facilitate the growth of crops, including corn, at yields that provide sustained global food production. However, fertilizers applied without consideration of the appropriate rate, timing, source, and method, can have harmful effects on the environment and human health. “Enhanced Efficiency Fertilizer” (EEF) is a term for new formulations that control fertilizer release or alter reactions that reduce nutrient losses to the environment. EEFs and other product technology innovations may be an important addition to a system of conservation practices that help reduce the impacts from row crop agriculture on the environment, while maintaining or increasing agricultural productivity and profitability.

Challenge Details

To help mitigate potential adverse environmental effects, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is partnering with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to launch the Joint EPA-USDA Partnership and Competition on Next Gen Fertilizers to Advance Agricultural Sustainability in the United States. Along with EPA and USDA, the competition is in collaboration with The Fertilizer Institute (TFI), the International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA).

This Partnership is being coordinated with input from stakeholders such as corn grower representatives, fertilizer companies, university and government researchers, and environmental and industry NGOs. This competition includes two challenges which aim to accelerate the development and use of existing and new product technologies that are affordable to reduce the environmental impacts of U.S. corn production. The results of the Partnership may ultimately be leveraged to improve production of other crops under a range of environmental conditions in the U.S. and abroad.

EEFs: Environmental and Agronomic Challenge: This Challenge aims to identify existing EEFs currently on or near-market that meet or exceed certain environmental and agro-economic criteria. The Challenge is planned to have 3 stages:

  • Stage 1: Potential solvers will submit information describing the EEF and how it is anticipated to meet the requirements. Submissions will be reviewed by an expert judging panel.
  • Stage 2: A subset of Stage 1 solvers will be invited to submit physical products in order to compete in planned greenhouse testing.
  • Stage 3: Potential for field trials following Stage 2 greenhouse testing, locations to be determined.

For the challenge dealing with concepts for novel technologies for fertilizers and other product technology innovations, go to the Next Gen Fertilizer Innovation Challenge.

Key Dates:

EEF Environmental and Agronomic Challenge Dates:

  • Challenge Launch: 9:00 AM ET August 26, 2020
  • Informational Webinar:  10:00 AM ET September 24, 2020 
  • Submission End: 11:59 PM ET October 30, 2020 (Submission deadline passed - no more submissions being accepted)
  • Winners announced: Winter 2020/2021 (date and time to be determined)

For more information please visit EPA’s page for the Next Gen Fertilizer Challenges, including Frequently Asked Questions.


Total Cash Prize Pool

There is no monetary prize for this challenge.

Non-monetary Prizes

Solvers of the EEFs: Environmental and Agronomic Challenge will receive scientific evaluation from the panel of experts. Winners will also receive recognition from EPA, USDA, and other collaborators and Solvers; advancement to a greenhouse trial (Stage 2); and, pending greenhouse trial results and available funds, advancement to field trials (Stage 3). Winners of Stage 1 will also be invited to a showcasing event (date and location to be determined).



Seekers: EPA, USDA, and collaborators

Solvers: Individuals or teams participating in the challenge by submitting a solution

Solutions: A Solver’s submission in response to a challenge


  1. Eligibility:

    • To be eligible to compete for the award, Solvers must submit solution to no later than 11:59 PM ET on October 30, 2020. Late submissions will not be considered.
    • Eligible: Submissions can be entertained from all Solvers regardless of whether they are U.S. citizens/entities. Meritorious submissions from non-U.S. citizens and entities as well as U.S. citizens that may not be prize eligible (see Challenge specific Agreement) if any, will be recognized in publications issued by the Seeker announcing the results of the competition, such as press releases. Non-U.S. citizens/permanent residents or non-U.S. entities can also be included on U.S. teams. However, under the authority of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 (15 U.S.C. § 3719) as amended, the Seeker cannot award cash prizes to individuals that are not U.S. citizens, not permanent residents of the U.S. or entities not incorporated in and maintaining a primary place of business in the U.S.
    • Not eligible: U.S. or foreign government organizations, or federal employees acting within the scope of their employment.
    • Eligible: Individuals or organizations that receive funding from U.S. or foreign government organizations are eligible to compete. However, funds from U.S. or foreign government organizations should not be used to directly fund the development of a solution requested under this Challenge.
    • Not eligible: Individuals involved in development of award selection criteria.
    • Solvers may submit multiple solutions. However, solutions that use the same or similar ingredient technology used at multiple concentrations or inclusion rates should be submitted as one application. If different ingredients are used to create multiple technologies, multiple applications may be submitted.
  2. Required Information:

    • Technical point of contact for application (name, position, title, affiliation, contact phone number, contact e-mail address). This is the individual who will manage communications and coordination between the Solver(s) and seekers.
    • Listing of team members (including affiliations) and partner organizations (as appropriate).
    • Submission must be in PDF format (10 pages or less excluding references, 8.5 x 11 inch pages, 12-point Times New Roman font or greater, single spaced, and one-inch margins). The solution should include the following headings and content:

      1. Executive Summary: Overall description of the proposed solution (500 words);
      2. Detailed Description of the Proposed Solution: This should include background on the EEF, including any physical, chemical, biological, ecological, or biogeochemical properties in the soil under various climatic and soil moisture conditions. This should also include the names and unique CAS numbers (if available) for any active and inactive ingredients and a description of how these may decompose in the environment and into what chemicals;
      3. Environmental Performance: A quantitative summary (including any relevant graphs or tables) of any published or unpublished results of environmental performance, including comparisons of rates of loss relative to conventional fertilizer for N (e.g. leaching, runoff, ammonia volatilization, nitrous oxide emissions), and P (e.g. leaching, runoff) if relevant;
      4. Agronomic Performance: A quantitative summary (including any relevant graphs or tables) of any published or unpublished results of agronomic performance, including yields under various conditions, rates of growth, kernel production, and net cost (e.g. return on investment, ROI) relative to conventional fertilizer practices;
      5. Compatibility: Describe how your technology is or may be integrated into existing farming machinery and practices (e.g. transport, storage, application) to the level of specificity possible given the degree of technological maturity; and
      6. Confidential Business Information (CBI): Clear statements on any CBI to be withheld from the submission, or included in the submission but to be withheld from either the judging panel or the public.
  3. Solvers must agree to the terms and conditions outlined below. Submission of a solution for the Challenge indicates the agreement of the Solver, and all team members, with the terms and conditions.

Terms and Conditions

  • Solvers will not receive compensation for resources or time invested in addressing this Challenge.
  • Solvers retain their rights to all intellectual property (e.g., details and design of their technology) that may be disclosed to the Seekers over the course of the challenge. Technical details and designs will not be disclosed or published without permission from the technical point of contact named in the registration.
  • Seekers retain the right to disclose performance criteria, and other evaluation criteria summarized in the technology description to provide a transparent reporting of how the winning solution was selected.
  • Seekers retain the right to publish, present, and/or otherwise publicize results of the challenge competition that does not involve the disclosure of intellectual property of the Solver(s). Solvers will be afforded to review publications, presentation, or other publicity in order to protect against unwanted disclosure of intellectual property.

Non-Endorsement: EPA and USDA do not endorse any collaborator or Solver, nor any product, service or enterprise that may appear in submissions. Furthermore, by recognizing winning submissions, EPA and USDA are not endorsing products, services or enterprises that may appear in those submissions.

Funding Restrictions:

  • Solvers cannot use funding from the federal government (including through grants, cooperative agreements or contracts) to compete in the Challenge.
  • All prize awards are subject to EPA and USDA verification of the winners’ identity, eligibility and participation in the Challenge.
  • Solvers must not be suspended, debarred, or otherwise excluded from doing business with the Federal Government. An individual or entity that is determined to be on the GSA Excluded Parties List ( is ineligible to participate.


EPA and USDA have a no-tolerance policy for plagiarism. Any applicant whose winning work is determined to be plagiarized in whole or in part will forfeit any awards.

Assistance Waiver:

By entering this Challenge, Solver agrees to assume any and all risks and waive claims against the federal government and its related entities (except in the case of willful misconduct), for any injury, death, damage, or loss of property, revenue, or profits, whether direct, indirect, or consequential, arising from their participation in the Challenge, whether the injury, death, damage, or loss arises through negligence or otherwise.

Disclaimer: EPA and USDA reserve the right to disqualify and or clarify any submittal.

Judging Panel

A panel of subject matter experts selected by EPA, USDA and the Challenge collaborators will judge submissions based on pre-defined scoring criteria. The panel will initially screen submissions for completeness and relevance. The selected eligible applications will then be judged using the criteria specified below. Judges will be selected based on several criteria, including their technical expertise (e.g. chemistry, agronomy, microbiology, biogeochemistry, ecology), geography (e.g. Midwest, South, etc.), associations with land grant universities, sectoral experience (e.g. farming, academia, government, industry), and diversity. All judges will be required to sign Conflict of Interest (COI) agreement to ensure unbiased reviews, and Non-Disclosure agreements to ensure confidentiality of any CBI. All persons or entities that submit a solution will be notified as to the status of their submission and a high-level evaluation. Decisions cannot be contested.

Judging Criteria

For Stage 1, the Judging Panel will evaluate submissions based on four performance areas, which will be allotted points (up to a total of 100). Submissions invited to Stage 2 will submit a physical product for testing at the IFDC based on agreed-upon protocols.

Scoring Overview

Stage 1. Within performance areas, there are additional criteria that will be evaluated. For example, there are five environmental and three agronomic criteria:

  • Environmental performance: 35 points

    • Reduction relative to conventional fertilizer of N leaching/runoff: 7 points
    • Reduction relative to conventional fertilizer of P leaching/runoff: 7 points
    • Reduction relative to conventional fertilizer of NH3 volatilization: 7 points
    • Reduction relative to conventional fertilizer of N2O emissions: 7 points
    • No toxic residue left on the field or in the runoff or leachate: 7 points (For the purposes of this Challenge, “toxic residues” refers to prevalent and biologically active degradates formed from decomposition (via either biotic and abiotic processes) of the product in the environment. Please include the names and unique CAS numbers (if available) for any active and inactive ingredients of the solution and its degradants. Toxicity and prevalence can be described by a number of means, including existing eco-toxicology and environmental fate studies, summaries from either the EPA CompTox Chemicals Dashboard or the EPA ECOTOX Knowledgebase, or whether the constituent chemicals are already listed under the EPA Safer Chemical Ingredients List. Although this criteria does not pertain to inhibitor effects on target organisms (e.g., soil bacteria), which are toxic by design, it does pertain to any decomposition byproducts of inhibitors and other potential solutions, and effects that may occur for non-target organisms)
  • Agronomic performance: 35 points

    • Yield relative to conventional fertilizer: 15 points
    • Return on investment (ROI): 10 points
    • Compatibility with existing supply chain machinery and practices: 10 points
  • Other performance criteria: 20 points

    • Addresses multiple loss pathways: 10 points
    • Applicability to other crops and environmental conditions: 5 points
    • Market penetration: 5 points
  • Expert discretion points: 10 points

The Judging Panel will assign points to metrics and criteria based on the rubric above and their combined expert judgement given the degree of information submitted in the solutions. This “scorecard” will be made available to the Solver at the announcement of Stage 1 winners.

The example rubric above is for a solution that addresses N and P. For solutions that address only one nutrient (e.g. N), the possible points for the other nutrient (e.g. P) will be zeroed out such that the total points possible will be less than 100 (i.e. 90 points possible for N-only solution, 80 total points possible for P-only solution).

As an example, the following are qualities of an ideal solution:

  1. Compatible with existing corn farming machinery and practices;
  2. Reduces N and P leaching and runoff by 45% or more;
  3. Reduces NH3 volatilization by 25% or more;
  4. Reduces N2O emissions by 25% or more;
  5. Does not leave any toxic residue after degradation;
  6. Increases yield;
  7. Is estimated to be a net profit for farmers (i.e. the revenue from yield increases offset the up-front cost increases for the new technology);
  8. Has good environmental and agronomic performance under a range of environmental conditions;
  9. Is widely available and potentially applicable to other crops.

Stage 2. The planned IFDC trials are designed to evaluate a key subset of the criteria and metrics above. The greenhouse and laboratory trials will yield information on four environmental and three agronomic criteria. We will use a similar scoring rubric as with Stage 1, but with modifications since the IFDC trials will not test for certain criteria (e.g. toxicity of residue, compatibility with existing machinery).

  • Environmental performance: 50 points

    • Reduction relative to conventional fertilizer of N leaching
    • Reduction relative to conventional fertilizer of P leaching
    • Reduction relative to conventional fertilizer of NH3 volatilization
    • Reduction relative to conventional fertilizer of N2O emissions
  • Agronomic performance: 50 points

    • Yield relative to conventional fertilizer
    • Nitrogen use efficiency
    • Phosphorus use efficiency

Draft protocols for the planned IFDC greenhouse tests are available by request. Additional details of the IFDC scoring and testing protocols will be made following announcement of the Stage 1 winners, and will depend on the number of EEFs and soil types to be tested.

How to Enter

Submit to: