The objective of this Statement of Need (SON) was to develop sustainable energetic chemicals and formulations for Department of Defense (DoD) use. Of general interest were a) new chemical synthesis processes for existing or novel energetic chemicals/components and b) new industrial processes for separation or purification of chemicals and components. New processes should have accomplished the following:
Reduce or eliminate hazardous byproducts
Reduce emissions from hazardous solvents
Replace toxic components with less toxic or non-toxic components
Replace environmentally hazardous components with less hazardous or green components
Reduce hazardous wastes generated.
At the same time, it is critical that these new processes and designs at least maintain a similar level of performance of the existing energetics or munitions. Applied research proposals could focus on particular energetic molecules, components, or formulations without having a specific focus on a munition, while advanced technology development efforts had to also identify at least a relevant munition and attempt to meet appropriate sub-scale performance metrics. Applied research proposals had to describe the state of the art and indicate how the science/technology has not been applied to the SON. For advanced technology development proposals, the proposal had to describe the key applied research technology and the critical gaps that would be advanced in the effort to produce a scaleable process.
Specific research areas of interest included:
Identification of methodologies to enable endothermic chemical transformations at high selectivity and high extent of reaction. Potential technology solutions for energetic synthesis and purification include, but are not limited to, continuous reaction and separation processes to increase yields, synthetic biology solutions, biocatalysis, electrochemical synthesis, use of heterogeneous, solid-supported catalysts, such as zeolites, and other methodologies that could result in a more environmentally friendly energetic synthesis and purification.
The ability to purify energetic compounds or use byproducts, such as ammonium nitrate, to increase the efficiency of the overall process. Again, continuous processing methodologies can be more effective than batch processes. Process methodologies of interest include, but are not limited to, continuous separations processes and selective electrochemical decomposition of unwanted side-products.
Proposals should have also included a plan to conduct an appropriately-scaled Sustainability Analysis.1
Benefits of this work would advance the science and technology towards sustainable manufacturing of energetic molecules, formulations, or munitions, with reduced or eliminated use of hazardous solvents, reagents, or products, toxic heavy metals including lead, hexavalent chromium, and cadmium, perchlorates, and hazardous wastes. Novel manufacturing processes will strengthen the domestic industrial base to ensure uninterrupted production capability, reduce emissions, hazardous waste and wastewater, avoid regulatory action and reporting requirements and reduce worker exposure to potentially hazardous materials.
Energetics manufacturing consists of many steps that pose significant hazards and environmental issues due to the use of hazardous reagents, hazardous solvents, and hazardous wastes.
Trinitrotoluene (TNT) is one of the most widely used explosives; however, unwanted mono and dinitro isomers produced during the manufacturing process that are removed as “red water” from the process are an environmental hazard. Environmental regulations from the 1980s effectively eliminated the domestic commercial profitability of the process resulting in the U.S. importing all of its TNT needs. RDX is another widely used explosive chemical that poses environmental and toxicity issues. RDX can cause nausea, vomiting, and seizures after inhalation or oral exposure. Environmental release of RDX waste from the Holston Army Ammunition Plant is highly regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Tennessee and other states are developing stricter standards for RDX. Nitration of other common energetics, such as nitrocellulose and butanetriol trinitrate, use large excesses of nitric and sulfuric acid to achieve essentially full nitration of the compounds. Nitration requires large amounts of nitric and sulfuric acid, producing various waste streams, including NOx/SOx emissions.
The cost and time to meet the requirements of this SON were at the discretion of the proposer. Proposers submitting a Standard Proposal had to provide the rationale for this scale. The two options were as follows:
Standard Proposals: These proposals describe a complete research effort. The proposer should incorporate the appropriate time, schedule, and cost requirements to accomplish the scope of work proposed. SERDP projects normally run from two to five years in length and vary considerably in cost consistent with the scope of the effort. It is expected that most proposals will fall into this category.
Limited Scope Proposals: Proposers with innovative approaches to the SON that entail high technical risk or have minimal supporting data may submit a Limited Scope Proposal for funding up to $250,000 and approximately one year in duration. Such proposals may be eligible for follow-on funding if they result in a successful initial project. The objective of these proposals should be to acquire the data necessary to demonstrate proof-of-concept or reduction of risk that will lead to development of a future Standard Proposal. Proposers should submit Limited Scope Proposals in accordance with the SERDP Core Solicitation instructions and deadlines.