The training, testing, and manufacturing required to maintain a ready military that protects national interests has left the United States with a legacy: explosives residue from munitions-related activities—production, demilitarization, live-fire training and testing—in soils and groundwater at numerous active and former military installations. Many other nations are faced with this same legacy.
A University of Georgia inventor recently completed two successful demonstrations of a new “green” technology that eliminates explosives residue—munitions constituents—and immobilizes heavy metals. Recognizing this as a potential solution to many of these possible threats to human health and the environment, the U.S. Department of Defense has granted a multiple award remediation contract to the company headed by this UGA inventor and scientist.
The new remediation technology, MuniRem, was invented by Valentine Nzengung, professor of geology in the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and president of Planteco Environmental Consultants, LLC, an Athens-based company. MuniRem provides an effective in-situ treatment of explosive munitions constituents, both in residue and high (bulk) concentrations on land. It also has applications for neutralization of explosive residues in groundwater and decontamination of buildings used in munitions manufacture and processing.
Patent applications for the technology have been filed by the University of Georgia Research Foundation, Inc., and the technology has been exclusively licensed to Planteco.
During recent demonstration and validation tests at a former Army ammunition plant, MuniRem successfully remediated soils contaminated with various explosive munitions constituents compounds: TNT, RDX, HMX, TNB, and ADNTs. Other compounds detected at lower concentrations also were completely neutralized. The tests were funded by Headquarters, Department of the Army.
“These Army-funded tests confirmed the effectiveness of MuniRem as an invaluable tool for cleanup of thousands of current and former military and commercially owned sites where explosive and other munitions constituents present a potential hazard,” Nzengung said.
“This product will help eliminate explosive munitions constituents contamination from sites with minimal impact on the environment, allowing them to realize their potential as productive habitats for plants, and animals or for reuse by humans,” he said.
The Army demonstrated MuniRem’s effectiveness in neutralizing bulk explosives recovered from obsolete stockpiled munitions remaining from World War II. The munitions were cut open with a high-pressure water jet, and the explosive fill was successfully reduced to non-detectable levels in a reactor designed and built by Planteco.
DoD has identified more than 3,000 munitions response sites in the United State alone, where unexploded ordnance, discarded military munitions and munitions constituents are known or suspected to be present. These munitions response sites are on active military installations identified for base realignment or closures, and formerly used defense sites that have been transferred from DoD control to public uses. Other sites, such as former and current munitions operating facilities, are known to have explosive munitions constituents contamination that may need to be addressed.
MuniRem also could be used to address underwater military munitions either in place or after recovery.
Nzengung explained why MuniRem is greener and more practical, and several orders of magnitude less expensive compared to traditional treatment (decontamination) methods, which often involve removal of soil for treatment and/or disposal.
First, he said, MuniRem degrades chemical compounds used in munitions to regulatory or non-detectable levels much faster than competing technologies.
“The ability of MuniRem to completely remediate explosive munitions constituents-contaminated soils in a few days to a week, versus several weeks or months, will mean significant savings for DoD,” Nzengung pointed out.
“Still more cost savings will be realized,” he said, “because MuniRem is used onsite. It avoids the removal of contaminated soil for offsite treatment and disposal.”
MuniRem, applied in liquid or solid form, can effectively address munitions constituents- contaminated soil or groundwater at many of DoD’s current and former munitions operating facilities and munitions response sites. The process generates free radicals, short-lived but highly reactive chemical species that very rapidly and completely degrade oxidized organic compounds and explosives. When applied as a solution, MuniRem is effective up to several feet below the ground surface, while other technologies are only effective up to a few inches in depth.
MuniRem also reduces and immobilizes heavy metals, such as cadmium, mercury, chromium, arsenic and uranium, which are associated with munitions manufacture, use and storage. Immobilization prevents these metals from leaching into groundwater, rivers and lakes, Nzengung explained. In addition, he said, MuniRem transforms explosives into soil nutrients.
Finally, in contrast to other remediation technologies, MuniRemworks at ambient temperature—no heat is required—to neutralize explosive munitions constituents compounds that pose a potential threat to human health and the environment.
“In light of the recent spectacular results from the field trials, we are certain that MuniRem will have a great impact and provide huge savings to the expensive environmental remediation of active and former military installations,” said Gennaro Gama, UGARF’s technology manager charged with management and licensing of this technology. “The technology is also applicable to the decontamination of agricultural land where artificial fertilizers have been overused, leading to soil sterility and contamination of nearby water sources.”
“MuniRem is an example of a university-developed technology making the world a better place,” said Gama.
About PLANTECO: PLANTECO Environmental Consultants, LLC, is a United States Small Business Administration certified 8(a), HUB Zone, Small Disadvantaged Business founded in 2000. Headquartered in Athens, Georgia, PLANTECO provides cost-effective green solutions and sustainable technologies for environmental restoration of surface water, groundwater, soils, sediments, and air. PLANTECO offers full remediation site management services and applies value engineering to support smart growth development and energy efficient systems. See www.planteco.com.
About UGARF:UGARF performs the technology transfer function for the University of Georgia, taking assignment of patents, and licensing such patents to the private sector in return for royalty income to support the research mission of the university.UGARF is currently offering a number of patented technologies for license, including the patent portfolio directed to long-persistent phosphorous.To learn more about the technologies available for licensing from UGARF, see www.ovpr.uga.edu/tco/industry/technologies.