As part of their training, troops shoot small-arms into large mounds of soil, or berms. These berms are an important component of military training complexes, but their use can present environmental and regulatory challenges for installations, depending on the physical and chemical properties of the soil and the proximity of the berm to sensitive environmental receptors. For example, the berms can erode and, as a result, the heavy metals and toxic chemicals from the munitions can leach out of the soil into the surface water and groundwater. The products traditionally used to prevent this erosion are petroleum-based polymers, which themselves can harm the environment.

Dr. Steven Larson of the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center and his team have demonstrated new and innovative biopolymers, a green alternative based on natural products, that can be used to prevent berm erosion. They first had to determine if the biopolymers, which are byproducts of bacteria, could be grown in large enough quantities to be used for this purpose. Once they determined that this was possible, the team demonstrated that the biopolymers were as effective as the petroleum-based products in preventing berm erosion. In fact, the biopolymers also improved absorption of heavy metals, thereby preventing them from leaching out, suppressed dust, and improved plant growth.

These natural biological products will enable range managers to minimize berm maintenance and prevent pollution using an approach that fits well with the way the Department of Defense manages its training ranges.

For this significant achievement, Dr. Larson and his team received a 2012 ESTCP Project of the Year award. Project Overview 

Project Team