NATICK, Mass. (March 19, 2014) -- One 150-person base camp in Afghanistan can produce as much as 1,000 pounds of solid waste a day.
That waste can become one big headache, according to Amy Klopotoski, the Contingency Basing Science and Technology lead in the Expeditionary Basing and Collective Protection Directorate of the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, or NSRDEC.
"The waste generated on base camps, it's a big challenge and a problem, because Soldiers are either burning it -- which is hazardous to your health, the environment, the host nation -- or you have to backhaul it," Klopotoski said. "Soldiers have to leave the protected camp to backhaul this waste to some other location for it to be processed.
"So it's a logistics burden, it's a safety hazard, it's a health hazard, and quite a bit of waste is generated on these camps. So it is a continuous problem," she added.
Klopotoski would like to turn a negative into a positive, and solve another problem simultaneously, by converting that waste into energy that could help power U.S. base camps overseas.
"You can thermochemically process [the waste] so that you reduce the volume of it," Klopotoski said. "It can be reduced up to 90 percent of the volume of the waste, so it basically turns it into an ash. Then you can actually use it as an energy source so that you can provide energy to the camp.
"That cuts down on the fuel dependence of the camp itself. Fuel, it's a logistics burden for the Soldiers, as well."
NSRDEC serves as technical manager of a group known as Joint Deployable Waste to Energy, or JDW2E, which is looking at how to take technology now available on a municipal scale and shrink it to a size that would be deployable and would work at base camps.
"It's sort of been growing as an effort because people see the benefit," said Klopotoski, "and you look at the technology that exists today, and you feel pretty confident that we can get this capability into a deployable package."
Klopotoski said that JDW2E, which also includes Natick's Product Manager Force Sustainment Systems, is looking for systems that require no specialized training and are durable and transportable.
"It's a new capability that doesn't exist, so there aren't really test procedures," Klopotoski said. "So that's part of the effort, too, is establishing the test procedures to assess these systems."
In addition to establishing test procedures and assessing technology, JDW2E will conduct a workshop to solicit Soldier input.
"To find the right technology, you need to know what is acceptable or not acceptable in the field," Klopotoski said. "How would the Soldiers prefer it to be used and operated, or how might they use it?
"There's such a wide mix of things that come up in a waste stream on a base camp. You want a system that can accept anything. You don't want to have Soldiers sifting through stuff."
Klopotoski said that JDW2E is striving to get a prototype to the U.S. Pacific Command area of operations for testing. "A lot of their island nations have a lot of the same challenges that some of our contingency bases do," she added.
Given waste-to-energy conversion, solar technology and smart power management, Klopotoski said she can envision a day when base camps could be energy self-sufficient, taking vulnerable convoys off dangerous roads.
"You're attacking two problems," Klopotoski said. "It's the waste problem, and it's also the fuel-consumption problem. If we can get this to work, which we feel pretty confident that we can, that could tackle two of those pretty big problems that currently exist at camps."