OSU-Army partnership helping solve global munitions pollution problem

March 29, 2005
'Green' technology to solve pink and red water problems caused by munitions salvage and TNT production...

STILLWATER, OK, March 25, 2005 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- An Oklahoma State University research team working with the U.S. Army Defense Ammunition Center (DAC) in McAlester, Okla. has developed a functional prototype that uses only sunlight and a proprietary catalyst to detoxify water containing dissolved explosives created during the manufacture of TNT and when salvaging obsolete or unserviceable munitions.

The device was demonstrated today during a news conference at OSU. Officials said it provides a simple, low-cost, but very effective way to deal with a global environmental challenge and that it has the potential to save the military millions of dollars.

OSU System CEO and President David J. Schmidly said the breakthrough demonstrates the quality of OSU's research program, the benefit of partnering with DAC and the environmental and economic benefits that come from such partnerships.

"This is a significant development that will go a long way toward solving one of the military's most pressing environmental challenges," Schmidly said. "OSU has some outstanding researchers, and we are proud to have been involved. We look forward to an Oklahoma company taking this technology to the next level."

Dr. Jim Harmon, an OSU physicist who led the team of researchers and students, used a smaller, lab-sized version of the device to demonstrate the process today, but said it can easily be "ramped up" to handle much larger quantities of TNT-contaminated liquids.

DAC officials said the technology comes at a critical time because America and other nations face severe environmental challenges due to de-commissioning of huge stockpiles of excess, obsolete or unserviceable munitions.

"America currently has a stockpile of more than 400,000 tons of excess, obsolete or unserviceable munitions that must be destroyed," said James Q. Wheeler, DAC director. "The military services add another 50,000 tons every year, and almost every industrialized nation in the world has the same challenge."

DAC's Science and Technology Advisor, Solim S.W. Kwak, said munitions can currently be destroyed in an environmentally sound way, but the process is expensive. Under its Resource Recovery and Recycling (R3) program, the U.S. military has sought ways to recycle munitions components. However, some demilitarization processes produce a substance called "pink water," which is water contaminated with TNT.

Treating and de-toxifying pink water using current chemical and biologically based methods is slow, cumbersome and expensive.

DAC contracted with Harmon and his team to investigate alternative methods. The team developed a photo-catalytic method in which material within the device is coated with a catalyst developed at OSU. When exposed to sunlight, the catalyst neutralizes pink and also "red water," which is another highly toxic liquid produced during the manufacture of TNT.

"The best way to describe it is reverse photosynthesis," Harmon said. "The sunlight and catalyst create a reaction that turns nitro compounds into compounds such as ammonia. Actually, it would probably make a very good fertilizer."

He added that the process works in ambient temperatures in any sunlit location. Special lights can be used on cloudy days.

"Now we have a 'green' technology that uses sunlight to power chemical reactions to treat our munitions and explosives waste," said Larry R. Nortunen, associate director for technology at DAC. "It's very promising, and we are looking forward to further tests and development."

Kwak said the device also will be very useful as the United States again begins producing TNT at a facility in Virginia. America has not produced TNT since the 1980s due to excess stocks and the red water challenge. Since then, the U.S. has purchased TNT from international sources.

Harmon said a much larger device could handle as much as 15,000 gallons of contaminated liquid per day, about the amount of red water produced when making 10,000 pounds of TNT.

Speakers at today's demonstration included Lewis D. Walker, former deputy assistant secretary of the Army for Environment, Safety and Occupational Health.

Harmon said the next step is to conduct tests on a larger scale and work with an Oklahoma company that will mass produce the devices.


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