Low Emission Thermal Processing of Munitions Constituents

Erik Tolmachoff | Naval Air Warfare Center, Weapons Division



There is a need to decontaminate decommissioned large-scale propellant, explosive, and pyrotechnic (PEP) production and processing equipment that may be contaminated with energetics so that the materials do not pose environmental or explosive risks. Such contaminated materials are known as material potentially presenting an explosive hazard (MPPEH). Inaccessible surfaces and safety risks to personnel prohibit visual inspection of large-scale items. The currently approved thermal flashing method requires combustion at specified temperatures for prescribed time periods. At present, large amounts of wooden dunnage are often used as a heat source. Long durations at suboptimal temperatures from wood dunnage burning result in excessive emissions of particulates, volatile organic compound, Cobalt and other harmful air pollutants that can readily exceed quantities authorized by an installation's air permit, thus prohibiting the use of this method for safe certification of these materials. Unable to be processed, the decommissioned equipment remains stored without possible further disposition and presents an environmental risk of water contamination.

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Technology Description

Here, a modular propane-fueled flasher, capable of instant turn on/off, is suggested as a low emission and energy efficient process to replace uncontrolled open burn (OB) flashing. Propane combustion generates fewer emissions than wood burning and a propane flasher, with instant turn on/off will be more thermally efficient than burning wood dunnage, reducing emissions of air pollutants and greenhouse gases. The demonstration of a propane burner technology for flashing large-scale energetics production equipment would provide an environmentally permissible means for safely processing MPPEH and preventing release of energetic materials into groundwater while drastically reducing the airborne emissions generated by current OB practices.

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Currently, the high emissions associated with OB decontamination of MPPEH limit the amount of material that can be processed because a single burn can exceed annual emissions standards for an installation. It is conservatively estimated that the intense turnkey type of fire from propane operation of will require ~15% of the energy consumed by current OB methods. Moreover propane is less costly per unit energy than wood dunnage. The result is that the system will use a more cost effective fuel and less of it. In a case study for Naval Surface Warfare Center, Indian Head Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division it was estimated that the system will save approximately $20-30K per year in fuel costs alone. Furthermore, by safely and readily decontaminating MPPEH, the risk of soil and groundwater contamination from residue on the MPPEH is reduced. Therefore, the system will cut potential legacy costs associated with soil and groundwater remediation.

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Points of Contact

Principal Investigator

Erik Tolmachoff

Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division

Phone: 760-939-9998