Magazine article National Defense

Army Using High Technology to Destroy Excess Ordnance

Magazine article National Defense

Army Using High Technology to Destroy Excess Ordnance

Article excerpt

he Army soon will be destroying excess stocks of its small caliber pyrotechnic ordnance at the Hawthorne Ammunition Depot, Nevada, using lightning-like heat generated by a plasma arc torch.

The unit is called the plasma ordnance demilitarization system (PODS). This approach to demilitarization will enable the Army to reduce pyrotechnic, training, and munitions devices containing small amounts of energetic materials to a benign, non-leachable slag byproduct.

The organic content of the munitions will be converted to an environmentally safe offgas. No pre-processing will be required. Plasma arc will allow for demilitarization without the environmental issues associated with conventional incineration methods, open burning, or open detonation.

The Army commissioned MSE-Technology Applications (MSE-TA), Butte, Montana, to supply and install a system to process small scale pyrotechnic ordnance. Pyrotechnic ordnance pose special demilitarization problems in that they can be difficult to disassemble and recycle. The traditional means of demilitarization, open pit burn/detonation, has come under increasing regulatory limits due to the large quantities of particulate, heavy metals, and smoke that are introduced into the atmosphere.

According to Army officials, alternate thermal treatment technologies have had trouble handling the high temperatures and heavy offgas contaminant loadings associated with pyrotechnic ordnance and result in an ash byproduct that may be classified as a hazardous waste.

To ensure that the new approach will meet the Army's strict requirements for an environmentally acceptable means of reducing its aged stocks of ordnance, MSE-TA conducted a variety of tests. Testing conducted for the Army included technology applicability screening, extensive waste stream, and slag byproduct characterization as well as pilot-scale duration testing on live ordnance.

This testing demonstrated that plasma arc technology overcomes the limitations with conventional technologies, and identifies plasma arc technology as an environmentally appropriate demiltarization technology.

MSE-TA is nearing completion of the unit design for the Hawthorne facility The PODS will operate under a Resource Recovery and Conservation Act permit. The Army's Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC) at the Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey, provided technical management and supervision for the project, which will be completed in 1999. The project is sponsored by the Army Material Command with management coordination through the demilitarization technology office at the U.S. Army Defense Ammunition Center.

Plasma arc technology has been used successfully in metallurgical applications, principally in the aerospace and automobile industries. In 1989, MSE-TA began exploring its use for environmental applications. The company has conducted a series of tests of hazardous wastes and materials exceeding an aggregate of 150,000 pounds. The data available from these tests demonstrates the rationale for the growing acceptance and application of the technology for a variety of hazardous wastes.

Plasma technology can be used to treat heterogeneous non-sorted waste directly or can be used as part of an integrated waste treatment system to stabilize the final waste from other treatment processes.

Plasma are technology works by using an electrically powered plasma are torch to deliver heat up to 20,000 degrees Fahrenheit at the torch tip. The torch heats waste material residue to establish a molten bath that is maintained at approximately 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. When materials are fed into the molten bath, the organic content almost immediately converts to a gas. Inorganic material is captured in a glassy-ceramic slag product, which has the potential to be recycled as a road aggregate or abrasive. In a totally different application, the Army has considered using the technology to process wastes in a desert environment and forming the slag residue into foundation blocks. …

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