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Informational Only

This challenge is no longer accepting new submissions.

Next Gen Fertilizer Innovation Challenge

This Challenge aims to identify concepts for novel technologies for fertilizers and other product technology innovations that can reduce the environmental effects from modern agriculture while maintaining or increasing crop yields.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Total Cash Prizes Offered: $65,000
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 National Corn Growers Association, The Nature Conservancy
Submission Start: 08/26/2020 9:00 AM ET
Submission End: 11/30/2020 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 next generation 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.

Next Gen Fertilizer Innovation Challenge: This Challenge aims to identify concepts for novel technologies for fertilizers and other product technology innovations that can reduce the environmental effects from modern agriculture while maintaining or increasing crop yields. Submissions to the Next Gen Fertilizer Innovation Challenge may include technologies that are not currently on the market or technology concepts that are not traditional EEFs and not in commercial use as a fertilizer.

For the challenge dealing with existing product technologies, go to the EEFs: Environmental and Agronomic Challenge.

Key Dates

NextGen Fertilizer Challenge Dates:

*Register via InnoCentive

For more information please visit EPA’s page for the Next Gen Fertilizer Challenges.


Total Cash Prize Pool

The Seekers may award a total prize award pool of $65,000.

Prize Breakdown

The minimum full award amount is $10,000. The Seeker can allocate higher individual award amounts, as deemed appropriate. The Challenge award will be contingent upon results of critical analysis and evaluation by the Seekers and the Judging Panel appointed by the Seekers. Meeting the Technical Requirements does not guarantee that the proposed solution will receive an award from the Seekers. Partial cash prizes may be considered for solutions that meet some, but not all, of the criteria.

Non-monetary Prizes

Finalists will be invited to present their technologies at a showcasing event (date and location to be determined). Promising submissions may also be advanced to greenhouse or field testing at the conclusion of the competition.



Seekers: EPA, USDA and collaborators

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

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


  1. Eligibility:

    • Solvers must register and submit solutions via InnoCentive no later than 11:59 PM ET November 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 Seekers 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 Seekers 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 together. If different ingredients are used to create multiple technologies, multiple solutions 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).
    • Submissions should 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 submission 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 or novel technology, 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;
      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; and
      7. Trajectory to Market: Describe what resources, steps, methodology, and, timeframe would be needed to bring your idea to fruition (i.e., from concept to design to prototype to pilot-scale system to commercially viable technology).

        Solvers are not required to give up any of their intellectual property (“IP”) rights to the Seekers to be eligible to receive an award. 

  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 the challenge. Only the winners of the Next Generation Fertilizer Challenge will receive a cash award.
  • 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.
  • Solvers reserve the right to remove themselves from the competition at any time, up to final submission of solution for evaluation, by notifying the Seeker in writing. The technical point of contact must make the request in writing on behalf of his/her team.
  • Registration for the challenge does not confer any obligation to deliver results.
  • Solvers that do not submit their solution by the submission deadline will be removed from the competition and subject to the same terms as if they had forfeited in writing. The submission deadline may be extended at the discretion of the Seekers, but any extension will apply to all registered Solvers.


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. Awards will be paid using electronic funds transfer and may be subject to federal income taxes. EPA and USDA will comply with the International Revenue Service (IRS) withholding and reporting requirements, where applicable.
  • 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.


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

The Challenge seeks to identify next-gen technologies, such as enhanced efficiency fertilizers (EEFs) and other innovative amendment or product-based technologies aimed at enhancing nutrient use efficiency to reduce the environmental effects from row crop agriculture while maintaining or increasing farmer productivity and profitability. Potential solutions include, but need not be constrained to, traditional soil amendments like EEFs, and may include a range of other approaches.

Any proposed solution must address the following Technical Requirements to be considered for a full award. Solutions that meet some but not all of the criteria may be eligible to compete for a partial award.

Solution Must Have:

  1. Must improve environmental performance by reducing losses of N (and/or P) to the environment through any combination of reduced NH3 volatilization, N2O emission, N runoff or leaching, P runoff or P leaching, larger reductions will receive high ratings;
  2. Must improve agronomic performance by not reducing yield or increasing net farm costs in terms of return on investment (ROI), larger improvements will receive higher ratings;
  3. Must be applicable for use on corn in the United States;
  4. Must not be an EEF already on the market or near-market;
  5. Must ultimately be compatible with current agricultural machinery and practices used for common large scale production such as planters, fertilizer applicators or tillage equipment.

Nice to Have:

  1. Is applicable to other U.S. or global crops and soils;
  2. Does not leave toxic residues on or in the soil following use;
  3. Has a short timeline to market;
  4. Addresses more than one of the loss pathways identified above.

Scoring Overview

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
    • Shorter timeline to market: 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).

Following are the qualities of an ideal solution:

  1. Compatible with existing corn farming machinery and practices;
  2. Reduces N and P leaching by 45% or more;
  3. Reduces NH3 volatilization by 25% or more;
  4. Reduces N2O emissions by 25% or more;
  5. 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);
  6. Has good environmental and agronomic performance under a range of environmental conditions;
  7. Is potentially applicable to other crops and countries.

How to Enter

To register and submit a solution to the Next Gen Fertilizer Innovation Challenge, please visit the Challenge on the InnoCentive page.