Biodegradable Ammunition for Training
Responses are due this week to a US Department of Defense (DoD) solicitation issued in late November for the development of biodegradable or low environmental impact ammunition. The request was issued under the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) initiative, often described as ‘America’s seed fund.’ Which is interesting, given that the DoD is interested in training ammunition carrying seeds that will leave a legacy of “plants, not pollution.”
US military services use hundreds of thousands of training rounds per year, ranging from 40mm grenades to 155mm artillery shells, none of which are recovered from the training area. Projectiles, cartridge cases and sabot petals, some of which may eventually corrode, are a hazard to farmers, construction workers and the general public (who will be unaware the rounds are inert if they come across them), leak pollutants into soil and ground water and contribute to the eventual clean-up bill the DoD faces – currently estimated to start around U$16 billion.
The Department therefore seeks a solution in which the metallic components of training rounds are replaced with naturally occurring biodegradable materials. The solicitation provides a number of references to significant research work already conducted into such materials, variously based on bamboo, lignocellulose and soy-based fibres, among others.
The US Army Corps of Engineers Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory has already demonstrated the viability of embedding bioengineered seeds in materials such as those proposed for the training ammunition solution. Germinating only after several months in the ground, the concept is to grow plants that will consume soil contaminants, consume the materials comprising the ammunition residue and be non-harmful to any animals that might consume them.