Hawaii-Based Marines Test Green Waste Disposal Technology at PTA on Mauna Kea

On an island world-famous for its chain of active volcanoes, Marines are harnessing extreme heat to test a process that could become the future of military waste management.

The science advisor for U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific, supported by the MarForPac Experimentation Center, demonstrated a green, rubbish-reducing technology here Jan. 25.

“It’s not burning,” said Ben Tritt, the MarForPac science advisor for Office of Naval Research. “It’s gasification under a very controlled environment, and it’s much cleaner than burning … It’s (also) a self-sustaining process.”

Pvt. Dylan Bolt, a mortarman with 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, operates the tablet-like interface on the MAGS (Micro Auto Gasification System) here Jan 25, as part of Exercise Lava Viper. MAGS is being tested by the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific Experimentation Center to determine whether it is a viable waste management solution for Marines operating out of austere environments. The machine is capable of handling the daily waste disposal needs of approximately 1,000 troops, converting 95 percent of the waste to gas, which is then used to fuel the process. Bolt, 21, is from Prosser, Wash.  Photo By: Cpl. Ben Eberle

Pvt. Dylan Bolt, a mortarman with 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, operates the tablet-like interface on the MAGS (Micro Auto Gasification System) here Jan 25, as part of Exercise Lava Viper. MAGS is being tested by the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific Experimentation Center to determine whether it is a viable waste management solution for Marines operating out of austere environments. The machine is capable of handling the daily waste disposal needs of approximately 1,000 troops, converting 95 percent of the waste to gas, which is then used to fuel the process. Bolt, 21, is from Prosser, Wash. Photo By: Cpl. Ben Eberle

The machine behind the magic is called MAGS (Micro Auto Gasification System), and perhaps the most impressive aspect of the technology is its simplicity.

Operators start MAGS with diesel fuel, bringing the inside of its insulated drum to temperatures exceeding 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The machine is then “fed” trash at a rate of approximately 50 pounds per hour, turning 95 percent of it into gas which is used as fuel to sustain the process. The remaining 5 percent is converted to inert ash which can be safely disposed of in landfills, or mixed with compost, asphalt or cement. One machine is capable of meeting the daily waste disposal needs of approximately 1,000 troops.

“It not only (handles) mixed solid waste – trash that you would typically throw away – but we’ve also done some testing with petroleum, oil and lubricants,” said Tritt. Virtually the only materials MAGS cannot “digest” are glass and metal, which the system leaves intact and sanitizes so they can be easily recycled.

Aside from the obvious environmental and health benefits of reducing landfill usage and burn pits, MAGS and similar waste-to-energy technology can be operated expeditiously in austere and remote environments.

Wherever Marines go, MAGS can follow. This provides an economic benefit by greatly reducing the amount of waste that needs to be shipped from the forward operating base to the nearest disposal site.

The benefits are plentiful and the technology is state-of-the-art, but does it take a scientist to operate?

“Actually, it’s simple enough that a scientist can operate it,” joked Tritt. “It’s kind of like running an iPad.”

During Exercise Lava Viper, a field training exercise currently taking place at PTA, several Hawaii-based Marines gained firsthand experience with the MAGS. They agreed that the system was easy to use.

“The best thing about this machine is not having to load all our trash into Humvees and other vehicles to get it out of our training site,” said Lance Cpl. James Russell, an electrician with Combat Logistics Battalion 3, and Poughkeepsie, N.Y. native. “(Technology like this) will cut down on burn pits, and it’s easy to clean. All you need is a broom and dustpan and you’ll get it done in an hour … she’s good to go.”

So MAGS is self-sustaining, environmentally friendly, highly transportable, reduces waste disposal costs, and it minimizes the amount of time a Marine spends with his broom and dustpan. Unlike the Big Island’s majestic volcanoes, this type of waste-to-energy technology won’t inspire any postcards, but there are at least a few reasons to get excited.

 

High-Tech Trash Disposal System (MAGS) Being Tested at Camp Smith, Hawaii

In partnership with the Office of Naval Research(ONR), Marines at Camp Smith, Hawaii, are testing a high-tech trash disposal system that can reduce a standard 50-gallon bag of waste to a half-pint jar of harmless ash.

Called the Micro Auto Gasification System (MAGS), the unit is currently undergoing evaluation by U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific (MARFORPAC) as a possible solution to help Marines win their daily battle against the increasing trash at remote forward operating bases (FOB).

Lt. Col. Mike Jernigan, a Marine combat engineer who recently commanded a logistics battalion in Afghanistan, said waste disposal in the field is a problem.

“Right now, there are really only two solutions: burn it or bury it,” Jernigan said. “Any potential solution must reduce the security and logistics concerns of trash disposal, and help the environment…that’s a good thing for the Marine Corps.”

MAGS is both environmentally friendly and fuel efficient. A controlled decomposition process, which thermally converts energy from biomass is the key to MAGS’ effectiveness. “The system essentially bakes the trash and recovers a high portion of combustible gas byproduct, which is used to fuel the process,” said Donn Murakami, the MARFORPAC science adviser who leads the Marine Corps’ evaluation team.

Developed under the Environmental Quality, Discovery and Invention program at ONR and in collaboration with the Canada’s Department of National Defence, MAGS was designed to meet the need for a compact, solid-waste disposal system for both ships and shore facilities.

“Decades ago, the idea of harvesting energy from trash was just a side show in the environmental movement,” said Steve McElvany, the MAGS program officer at ONR. “Now, the technology is mature enough to where the Department of the Navy is seriously evaluating its practical and tactical benefits.”

The energy-efficient and clean-burning properties of MAGS make it attractive to expeditionary units. It has a low carbon footprint, and emissions are not visible, which is a tactical plus. Waste heat can also be used for practical purposes, such as heating living quarters or water.

“What we are doing for FOBs can be applied to schools, hospitals or an office building,” Murakami said. “We are talking about disposing our waste in a different manner, rather than just sending it to the landfill.”

Testing of MAGS will continue through March. Next summer, phase three of the evaluation will address the system’s expeditionary aspect at the Pohakuloa Training Area.  Hawaii.

MAGS is an example of how ONR energy programs are helping the Department of the Navy meet its ashore goal of producing 50 percent of installation energy requirements from alternative sources by 2020.

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Developed under the Office of Naval Research’s (ONR) Environmental Quality Discovery & Invention program, the Micro Auto Gasification System (MAGS) is a solid waste disposal system that enables individual units to efficiently manage their own solid waste stream in an environmentally friendly manner.