Tuesday | October 25, 2016
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Reducing the rubbish

Pohakuloa Training Area recently served as the test site for a waste-to-energy technology that can reduce the amount of garbage by up to 95 percent.

In January, during a two-week U.S. Marine Corps training exercise at the base, a Micro Auto Gasification System, better known as MAGS, turned 12,000 pounds of unsorted solid waste the 1,400 troops generated into 569 pounds of ash and 601 gallons of wastewater, a 93 percent reduction, PTA officials said.

“This system, or something like this, is definitely something we could use here,” PTA Public Affairs officer Bob McElroy said Friday.

Montreal-based Terragon Environmental Technologies Inc. developed MAGS about five years ago, in collaboration with the U.S. and Canadian navies. Navy officials were looking for a way to reduce the amount of waste collected on board ships, process engineer Leon Lobry said. A MAGS unit, which can dispose of up to 88 pounds of waste an hour, works well in isolated communities, in part because it gets rid of the need to truck solid wastes into more populated areas, Lobry said.

The effluent water can be used as gray water, for nonpotable water uses, and Terragon is also working on a new technology that can filter toilet water to be used as gray water, as well. The MAGS unit tested at Pohakuloa is a precommercial version, although Lobry said it is very close to what the company expects the final, commercial product to look like. About the size of a shipping container, it is small and portable enough to fit on a large military ship or be brought to an isolated area such as Pohakuloa.

The military is already recycling some of the water at PTA, McElroy said. Water in the vehicle wash area is filtered — with oil, dust and other debris removed — then reused in that area. The MAGS unit didn’t create enough wastewater to be used in that way. The remainder of wastewater at the base goes into cesspools on site, he added.

Solid waste disposal is costly for military units training at PTA, McElroy said. During a training in April and May 2012, the Marines paid about $65,000 for waste disposal, mostly for renting dumpsters. Converting the waste to gas, which, in turn, runs the MAGS unit, and wastewater will help reduce those costs, McElroy said. It also reduces the base’s environmental footprint by eliminating the solid waste the base contributes to the county’s landfills.

“This was a good test in the field, in austere conditions,” McElroy said. “By all accounts, it ran like a champ.”

A generator starts the unit, which takes about three hours to reach the 1,400-degree temperature necessary to convert the waste to gas and ash, McElroy said. The units ran from about 8 a.m. to midnight daily, then cooled for about three hours before someone could remove the ash. Then the process started over.

Lobry said the field test showed engineers things they could change, such as automating more of the cool-down process.

Terragon is focused on small-scale units for remote and isolated areas, Lobry said, but other companies have made large-scale products similar to the MAGS technology. Some communities in Germany are already using larger-scale, commercial versions, he said.

The Marines will next take the MAGS unit to the Philippines, where they will test it in a tropical environment. McElroy said the technology may eventually be useful for troops being sent to forward operating bases in places such as Afghanistan, where waste disposal is an issue.