Concern that the U.S. military could run out of water while washing tanks and trucks exposed to chemical and biological weapons has led to inventions with non-military applications.
A new water recycling system built by the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s Environmental Laboratory solves the problem by filtering out the bad stuff, which allows the wastewater to be reused or dumped.
Known as the Decontamination Effluent Treatment System, it can filter up to 600 gallons of wash water per hour, according to Victor Medina, a research engineer in the Army lab.
But an offshoot of Medina’s work has led to a new filter membrane made of graphene oxide, a unique material with a tendency to self-assemble in layers, creating narrow channels that are perfect for filtering water.
“He came in and said, ‘We need to create a piece of membrane material as big as my desk,’” said Chris Griggs, a research chemist and one of Medina’s colleagues. “And Jose Mattei-Sosa–a chemical engineer on my team–and I looked at each other and said, ‘OK’.”
While graphene oxide is great as a filter, it’s also really expensive, around $250 per gram expensive, so the researchers wanted a way to recycle it to lower production and lifecycle costs.
Using chitosan, which is made of crustacean shells and is relatively inexpensive, the researchers were able to bind the graphene oxide into a recyclable membrane.
“As far as we know, our team has the largest graphene oxide membranes in the world,” Griggs said.
While it was designed for water filtration, the researchers have other applications in mind. Griggs and Mattei-Sosa think it can make construction materials stronger and Medina has been looking at using it for decontamination, as a wipe or a “bandage,” to bind contaminants.
In September, the Army was granted U.S. Patent 10,414,659 for the recycling idea, and another is pending on the filter membrane itself. Both are available now to U.S. companies for the development of new products, water-related or not.
Through technology transfer, private businesses can leverage the Army’s research and development work to integrate this and other military inventions into their own products and services.
In this case, a patent license agreement with the Army would enable the graphene oxide manufacturing and recycling tech developed by Medina and his colleagues to be transferred and transitioned into use by companies selling products and services to the military or commercial markets. A cooperative research and development agreement may also be appropriate to further the technical readiness level.
Quinton King, senior technology manager at TechLink, is an expert in invention licensing and is assisting the Army Corps of Engineers with its technology transfer efforts and has been in contact with Medina.
“We’re regularly reviewing the Army’s patent portfolio because it’s a window into how companies can leverage the government’s R&D,” King said. “And now that the patent has issued, the technology’s commercial value has grown. I’m happy to walk companies through the steps to commercialization.”
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