nutrients-challenge org

Published: 11 of January of 2021

The Nutrient Sensor Challenge is a market stimulation prize competition to accelerate the development of affordable, accurate, and reliable sensors for measuring nutrient levels in water.

Nutrients are a natural part of ecosystems, but too much nitrogen and phosphorus causes big problems: harmful algal blooms can make pets and children sick, green water can shut down recreation, and species kills can result from impaired water conditions.

Improved sensors will help to understand how nutrients move through the environment and help to measure nutrient levels in waterways with more accuracy.

But this is not a typical prize competition, where the winners get a check at the end for hitting specific criteria. The Challenging Nutrients Coalition—a broad group of federal agencies working with states, universities, and private sector organizations—has worked to define the market, which will be the big payoff for winners.

In the Nutrient Sensor Challenge, the top developers will have the best shot at the people who will buy and use those sensors to help track nutrients. Sensor users range from international groups to U.S. federal agencies to local watershed alliances.

The water sensor market is fractured—one of the biggest barriers to innovation identified in a discussion paper released by the Brookings Institution and Stanford University. The Nutrient Sensor Challenge represents one of the best efforts to quantify and understand the market. We’ve done good work so far, but gaps remain. And that’s where targeted crowdsourcing comes into play.

We think the crowd can help this effort. We want input from sensor users—just how big is the sensor market in your state? The United States? The world?


Launched in December 2014, the Nutrient Sensor Challenge aimed to accelerate the development, production, and use of affordable, reliable, and accurate nutrient sensors. These sensors will enable automated and high-resolution nutrient monitoring in aquatic environments ranging from freshwater lakes and streams to the coastal ocean. Nutrient pollution is one of the nation's most difficult environmental challenges. While nutrients are essential compounds for functioning ecosystems and the production of food, fiber, and livestock feed, excessive nutrient levels can dramatically alter aquatic environments and threaten economic and human health.

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