ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- U.S. Army scientists have developed an improved surface-coating method to reduce air pollution and save $1 billion during the next 15 years.

Senior Army leaders gathered at APG's Ball Conference Center April 1 to recognize the Sustainable Painting Operations for the Total Army program.

Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody, commanding general of Army Materiel Command, commended the team on its commitment to the environment.

"You are doing the right thing for the environment, the Army, the nation and future generations," Dunwoody said. "Through your incredible efforts, we are bringing capabilities to the field faster."

The Environmental Acquisition and Logistics Sustainment Program of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command was recognized with the Secretary of the Army's environmental award in weapon system acquisition for developing surface-coating products free of hazardous air pollutants.

SPOTA developed 45 distinct technologies with more than 1,000 products affected because of the variations in type, class, color and unit of issue. It is expected to eliminate more than 4,000 tons of organic HAPs and other pollutant emissions from Army surface coating. SPOTA will impact about 6 million gallons per year.

Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for installation, energy and environment, said the team's works is a prime example of the Army's environmental efforts.

"There are some wonderful innovative minds here. We have more expectations in the realm of sustainability," Hammack said. "It's an example for the Army and nation. You have proven your commitment to sustainability."

Hammack also discussed the Army's initiative for net-zero energy, which means installations would generate as much power and energy as they consume. Reducing Army water usage and waste is also vital, she said.

RDECOM facilities, logistics and environment EALSP manages SPOTA. RDECOM's centers and laboratories execute the program.

"We wanted to eliminate that environmental liability," said Erik Hangeland, program director for EALSP.

Painting, bonding, sealing and de-painting weapons systems emit HAPs and are subject to Environmental Protection Agency regulations. As the EPA began issuing standards regulating HAPs produced by industry, several standards would also apply to the Army.

"If all of the standards that were germane to the Army were actually applied, it would have been a nightmare for us to do the record keeping and compliance. So, the environmental community in the weapon systems world began looking for ways to overcome that obstacle," Hangeland said.

The EPA accepted public comment from the defense community and agreed to develop a consolidated standard that would apply across all military operations. That standard is expected to be announced in 2011.

"In the Department of Defense, we cover many different sectors. It doesn't make sense to apply numerous standards with different sets of metrics to one organization. The point here was not to get away from compliance, but to have one standard that is rational for the military to comply with," Hangeland said.

EALSP, as part of the Army's Environmental Quality Technology Program, began looking for ways to improve Army installation environmental postures. SPOTA was born.

SPOTA focuses on eliminating organic HAPs with a secondary focus on reducing VOCs and other hazardous materials. It has five areas of emphasis: paints, sealants and adhesives, solvents, de-painting and rubber-to-metal bonding.

SPOTA employed an evolutionary acquisition approach that fielded materials as soon as they were developed and approved for use. This provided the opportunity to make several revisions for maximum effectiveness.

"We put products out early in the process so a continuous improvement was being implemented. We were also able to determine that when we had completed one product, we could take look at another one," Hangeland said.

"Many of these actually work better than the old stuff," said Patrick Taylor, chemical engineer from Hughes Associates, which supports EALSP. "People hear environmental and they roll their eyes, but these are performance improvements that were just driven by environmental requirements."

Furthermore, the Army will be ready when the EPA announces its HAP regulations for defense-wide surface-coating operations.

"The SPOTA program is almost complete and it will put us in the position of compliance whenever the regulation comes out in the future," Taylor said.

The EALSP team will compete against other award winners in its category within the Department of Defense to determine the overall winner. Winners of that competition will be announced in 2011.

"This was a huge collaborative effort across all of the RDECOM elements involved, and I think that was really a big part of the success of this program," Hangeland said.