SwRI-developed mobile system to destroy dangerous chemical warfare agents on site

April 17, 2017, Southwest Research Institute
SwRI is developing a mobile treatment unit (left) to destroy chemical agents. After the agents are destroyed, exhaust gases are passed through a soil-based fluidized bed and scrubber columns to remove combustion byproducts. Credit: Southwest Research Institute

Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) helped develop and recently completed initial testing of a field-deployable treatment system that destroys chemical warfare agents (CWAs) using locally available resources. The modular unit, designed to fit into a large shipping container for easy transport, includes two pollution abatement configurations – one wet and one dry process – that can be deployed depending on the available resources of the location.

Because current destruction methods produce hazardous byproducts during the neutralization process, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) issued a call for innovative systems that can neutralize chemicals or dangerous material without creating hazardous waste. The resulting modular mobile unit can be easily transported and deployed in a field setting close to where hazardous chemicals may be stored.

"It is in our national interest to have a field operable unit that can safely dispose of and other dangerous chemicals on the front lines in a timely manner," said Darrel Johnston, a senior program manager in SwRI's Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Division. "We began development of the soil scrubber system in June 2016 and delivered a proof-of-concept system in February 2017."

SwRI designed the dry pollution control process, ideal for arid or remote regions, for use with SwRI's Dedicated EGR engine thermal destruction device developed for DARPA's Agnostic Compact Demilitarization of Chemical (ACDC) Agents program. Once the chemicals are destroyed, exhaust gases pass through the SwRI soil-based fluidized bed where the combusted byproducts are captured. The used soil remains non-hazardous. The wet pollution control system, developed by a Canadian company for its stand-alone plasma torch treatment device, includes a liquid scrubber system. Using local soil eliminates the significant logistical burden of providing water to remote sites and transporting liquid waste to a treatment facility.

The performance of both the wet and the dry scrubber units were independently verified and validated in recent tests performed in Canada. When the dry soil-based scrubber was interfaced with the Canadian company's plasma torch front end, the system demonstrated a more than 99.9999 percent destruction of simulated CWAs and effective scrubbing of acid gases.

The systems are scheduled to be tested this summer with authentic CWAs, in both the liquid-scrubber and soil-scrubber configurations

Explore further: Turning deadly chemical agents into harmless soil

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