BRADFORD, Ontario, Canada (WTVG) - Nine teams came from all over the world - China, the Netherlands, and West Virginia - to Canada to compete for a prize. The problem is simple in theory: how to take a nutrient out of the water before that water turns green.
"The crisis in Toledo really spoke to the magnitude of the issue," Loren Parra said. She's the director of the Barley Prize.
Thursday, contest organizers named their four finalists and first runner up in the competition.
Those finalists are Wetsus Nafrad, the U.S. Geological Survey - Leetown Science Center, the University of Idaho clear water machine and Greenwater Solution Inc.
Here is more on each specific projec from the George Barley Water Prize.
Wetsus Nafrad: Wetsus, a European Center of Excellence for sustainable water technologies based in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands, has developed a remarkable 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.
U.S. Geological Survey - Leetown Science Center: The United States Geological Survey, at Leetown Science Center in Kearneysville, West Virginia, developed a remarkable 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.
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.
University of Idaho clear water machine: As the bottle water rush spread across Toledo in August 2014, work to create the George Barley Water Prize was happening in Florida to find a fix for us.
Greenwater Solution Inc.: 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.
Zerophos, named first runner-up: ZeroPhos, from Nanjing University in Nanjing, China was a late entry, but put forward an extraordinary technology based on lanthanum, a rare earth with remarkable properties. By putting lanthanum into a re-usable, stable, adsorption filter, ZeroPhos has demonstrated it can take phosphorus down to extremely low levels and low cost.
"There's a lot of businesses that contribute to the problem," Neil Sosebee said.
Neil works for Toronto based Econse but grew up along the Maumee River in Napoleon.
He thinks local factories (and others, called point sources) that release phosphorus will volunteer to self treat their water - affordably.
"I expect it to be much less expensive," Sosebee said of his entry, in comparison with the other teams in Bradford, Ontario.
A city like toledo may not be able to afford the whole fix.
"To ask a small, medium, even large municipality 'ok you just put in a 10 million dollar plant, and all your problems vanish.' Well that's a big undertaking," Sosebee said.
"And you've gotta do so cheaply," Dr. Tom Van Lent of the Everglades Foundation said.
That's one of the factors judges evaluated: cost. That's why many teams are capturing the phosphorus to resell to use again
"The nice thing about these columns is that you can regenerate them. When they're full, you can regenerate them," Miriam Kuiper said.
Miriam Kuiper is a Dutch grad student running two of the pilots. They won the first two rounds with a custom filter. Another option has roots in the
Rust Belt and could be cheaper for towns along Lake Erie.
"It's essentially just a waste byproduct of the steel industry," Steve Holland from the University of Waterloo said.
This slag comes out covered in phosphorous and a pH of 12.
"That allows our system to automatically dose carbon dioxide into system," Holland added of how the pH gets neutralized.
In the blue box next door, a team from China has lots of experience with algae in their home country.
'These particles have large capacity and selectivity towards phosphorus," Dr. Zhang Yanyang said. He brought his team from Nanjing University to compete in Canada.
Greg Moller uses Toledo's water crisis as a cautionary tale for his classes. The University of Idaho professor taught online classes by wifi from his "clean water machine." He wants to use these smaller rigs for canals like ours back home.
"That accounts for a large amount of the bulk nutrients that enter ecosystems like Lake Erie," Dr. Greg Moller said. "So if we can control it when it's in a small flow, we can allow it to not get into a big flow." Moller is a professor at the University of Idaho.
Moller says it's just not realistic financially to treat for phosphorus at the mouth of a big river like the Maumee.
"We think these should be applicable technologies in any temperate climate including in Ohio and Michigan," Dr. Van Lent said.
If you win the grand prize for the Barley, the rule is that you have to bring a product to market within three years.