Not all Green is Good: How UNH Startup is Addressing Eutrophication


Ryan Malloy

Derek Long (left), Jason Plant (middle), Nicole King (right).

Julie Bobyock, News Editor

Believe it or not, most areas of study–if not all–have a connection to sustainability. So, what connected six University of New Hampshire (UNH) students, all from different majors and backgrounds, to form their very own sustainability-driven startup? A passion for one critical issue: freshwater quality. 

When nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus are released from human sources such as fertilizers or wastewater into freshwater systems, the added nutrients allow for more algae to grow. This forms algae blooms, which add a massive amount of biomass to the systems. When the algae begins to decompose, this process takes up most of the dissolved oxygen available in the ecosystem, leaving other organisms to die and forming what is known as a “dead zone.” This process is known as eutrophication, and it affects areas all over the globe, including New Hampshire. 

Twenty-one percent of assessed water bodies in New Hampshire are considered eutrophic, meaning they are suffering from nutrient pollution, algal blooms and depleted dissolved oxygen. Eutrophication is environmentally damaging because the process creates toxic conditions for fish and other organisms that are key to proper ecosystem functioning. The toxic algal blooms also impair water quality; cyanobacteria, the type of organisms that make up algae blooms, release toxic chemicals that have led to public health issues.

HydroPhos is a startup that aims to address eutrophication that is caused from excess phosphorus, which is mainly released from wastewater discharge. Fourth year UNH students Katie Remeis, Matt Oriente, Derek Long and Jason Plant, third year student Daisy Burns, and 2022 graduate Nicole King initially developed the idea during their participation in UNH’s Social Venture Innovation Challenge (SVIC), where students propose a solution to a chosen sustainability problem. The team won the challenge in 2020.

“We were doing some research on teams that have won the Social Venture Innovation Challenge in the past,” said Plant, HydroPhos corporate executive officer when asked about how the idea for HydroPhos came to be. “We noticed that a lot of successful ideas followed the idea of a circular economy, where you’re turning a waste product into a profit stream by recycling it.” 

Plant explained that he was taking an ecology class at the time and learned about eutrophication, both about the environmental and social negative effects, but also how it can take decades of bioremediation to fix. 

“I thought, can we apply that circular economy idea to eutrophication?” Plant said…and thus HydroPhos was born. 

One important component of HydroPhos is that the company is addressing two problems at once: eutrophication and phosphorus depletion. 

Phosphorus is a non-renewable resource, meaning that because most of the element is stored in rocks and only released by weathering (the breakdown of rocks), mining or leaching, there is a finite amount of it on the planet and we can run out. Since phosphorus is a key material needed in fertilizer, the growing population and food demand has resulted in an increase of phosphorus consumption that contributes to eutrophication, but also raises concern about how we will continue to meet food demands without this critical resource as it gets continually depleted. 

The team is currently in the testing phase of their idea, using lab space from Impact Development, a national company that helps startups without a surplus of resources to reach their goals. They are currently renting lab space from Impact Development and testing various chemicals to understand which materials precipitate (remove in the form of a solid) the maximum amount of phosphorus from wastewater discharge. The goal is to then implement this step in wastewater treatment plants to increase phosphorus removal efficiency, and then sell the removed phosphorus to the agriculture industry to be used in fertilizers, adhering to the circular economy business model. 

But behind any idea–and its success–is passion.

“I have always been a person who wants to help out and be there for the community,” explained King, HydroPhos lead engineer. “My capstone project was about stormwater. I realized how many tonnes of pollution can go back into the earth from runoff. A huge issue we have globally is that there are higher concentrations of materials, usually pollutants, in certain places. I want to help out with this issue both by not making this problem worse, and hopefully making it better.” 

“We’re all passionate about sustainability,” explained HydroPhos Chief Operating Officer Long. “We’re connected to the problem, and I think that plays a part in our success and why our business connects with a lot of people.” 

Companies like HydroPhos elicit hope for the future of freshwater–something that is needed in this decade as the world battles climate change.

To stay up to date on HydroPhos developments, subscribe to updates on their website