SERDP researchers are developing innovative technologies to improve water and waste management for sustainably maintaining forward operating bases (FOBs) around the world. FOBs have been vital in supporting the expeditionary and campaign capabilities of the U.S. military, but supplying materials to build and sustain them has been costly both in dollars spent and lives lost. New technologies that reduce the impact of FOBs on the environment and improve the conditions in which military personnel live, will also improve safety and reduce logistics costs by minimizing the amount of material that is needed to support a FOB.

Forward operating bases provide a secure forward position to support tactical operations for the Department of Defense (DoD). They vary greatly from an austere, platoon-sized base supporting a few dozen troops on the tactical edge to division-sized enduring bases occupied by ten thousand or more personnel. The structure of a FOB is dependent on size, mission, anticipated duration, type of unit supported, area of operations, and the sophistication of host‐nation infrastructure. Often, FOBs are used for extended periods and must meet basic needs, including water supply, fuel for base and operational requirements, and waste treatment and removal, on a daily basis. To ensure the sustainability of FOBs, it is critical to reduce energy and water consumption, while still meeting mission requirements and protecting human health and the environment. 

Wastewater Treatment

Water is critical to the success of overseas contingency operations. It is used for drinking, food preparation, laundering, and centralized hygiene. Measures used to handle wastewater differ according to FOB population, contractor services, and location. As a general rule, the smaller and more austere the FOB, the more primitive the methods employed for managing wastewater. As FOBs mature and take on a more enduring role, rudimentary systems give way to chemical latrines, storage and septic tanks, and ultimately to conventional treatment systems.

SERDP researchers are pursuing innovative approaches for on-site, sustainable wastewater treatment at FOBs. They are investigating novel technologies, such as microbial fuel cells and membrane bioreactors with the integration of forward osmosis and low-energy reverse osmosis technologies, as a basis for deployable and easy-to-use on-site, wastewater treatment systems that minimize energy usage or produce energy. The goal of the research is to treat both graywater and blackwater at scales suitable for FOBs supporting 500 or more personnel, and to potentially generate water for potable or nonpotable reuse. 

Solid Waste Management

FOBs generate large amounts of solid waste from kitchens, packaging, latrines, and soldiers’ personal items. As with wastewater treatment, large base camps tend to have better defined waste management systems because of manpower, location, space, and funding. Conversely, smaller deployed camps lack the resources to effectively manage their solid waste. Methods commonly employed include contracting with local foreign nationals to haul waste away, using rudimentary landfills or dump sites, and burning waste in open pits or piles. These methods are resource intensive and inefficient. Burning waste and leaving waste unmanaged at dump sites also introduces potential hazards to human health.

The objective of the SERDP waste to energy program is to develop technologies that can be packaged into a compact and efficient battalion-scale system deployable in a single standard shipping container. Researchers are investigating multiple gasification approaches to produce syngas using mixed waste streams with minimal segregating or preprocessing. The syngas can feed directly into existing generators and supplement the existing diesel fuel supply to offset some of the requirement for transporting fuel in, as well as improve the management of solid waste. 

Related Resources

Wastewater Treatment Projects

Solid Waste Management Projects