Chemical and biological weapons experts earned the U.S. Army a patent on Tuesday for their groundbreaking work on rapid decontamination.
Gregory Peterson, Joseph Myers, George Wagner, Matthew Shue, John Davies, Jr., and Joseph Rossin were listed as the inventors on U.S. Patent 10,245,456, “Process for Decontamination and Detoxification with Zirconium Hydroxide-Based Slurry.” (The patent is linked below)
The research team works at the Army’s Chemical Biological Center in Maryland, and has significantly reduced decontamination time down to less than 30 minutes and the amount of water needed to treat large amounts of equipment coated in deadly toxins.
To do so, the researchers chose sulfolane, a solvent, to partition the chemical weapons from surfaces. But the Army researchers also added zirconium hydroxide (Zn(OH)4), which adsorbs the chemical weapons, and dibromo-dimethyl hydantoin (DBDMH), which is used industrially for drinking water purification and paper bleaching. The DBDMH oxidizes and destroys the chemical weapons without corroding equipment.
The sprayable slurry has a paint-like consistency, with thickening agents added to improve its adherence on all kinds of surfaces. Once prepared, it has a storage life of almost one month, which allows chemical or biological incident response teams to prepare.
The decontamination process starts by spraying surfaces within 15 minutes of a contamination incident. Partitioning, adsorption and chemical destruction of the chemical weapons begin immediately. Unlike current decontaminants that can take hours to work, the slurry requires no application brush, scrubbing, agitation, or rinsing, and does not significantly degrade the object sprayed.
Once the components were selected, the research team tested multiple ratios of each at the center’s Toxic Chamber Facility, which confirmed that the sprayable slurry can reduce the amount of CWAs on military-relevant materials and complex surfaces by up to 1,000-fold. Testing was done on complex surfaces containing grooves, screw threads, and curved surfaces and areas such as a Humvee door. The research team noted an immediate reduction in vapor hazards after spraying, which minimizes operational risk and allows warfighters to quickly continue on their missions.
TechLink, the Army’s partnership intermediary for technology transfer, is helping innovative companies identify the opportunity for commercializing the invention. Marti Elder, a senior technology manager at TechLink, said that businesses could license the patent, work with the inventors, and take the slurry to the market for military or commercial sales.
“As a result of this innovative chemistry, the Army is a big step closer to providing the warfighter the tools for rapidly responding to chemical weapon attacks, but a company to produce it for the marketplace is still needed,” Elder said. “It’s been prototyped and tested. So, the technology has been substantially de-risked.”
Although chemical weapon decontamination is the primary focus of the current testing, future tests at the Naval Surface Warfare Center’s Dahlgren Division will establish the slurry’s effectiveness against biological agents, such as Bacillus anthracis spores.
Licensing-related inquires can be directed to Marti Elder at firstname.lastname@example.org or 406-586-7621.