The U.S. Army’s a new best friend when it comes to recycling waste, conserving energy and keeping hazardous materials out of the waste stream is a chipmunk – a Kurt Chipmunk, that is. The Kurt Chipmunk is a new energy efficient metal compactor and recycler installed at the Tobyhanna Army Depot in Pennsylvania, and its success there could mark a big step forward in defense-related waste reduction initiatives.
In terms of green tech a metal compactor is not quite as glamorous as other U.S. military programs such as microbial fuel cells or portable solar power, but in addition to environmental goodness the Chipmunk offers significant bottom line benefits that could motivate private industry to invest in sustainable new technology sooner rather than later.
Metal Recycling and the Weakest Link
Collecting, storing, transporting scraps to be recycled is still mainly a labor intensive process based on archaic technology in the form of bins, barrels, and human muscle. That kind of approach is fine for a small facility, but the sprawling Tobyhanna Army Depot is the largest repair and fabrication operation of the U.S. Department of Defense. Its machine shop alone was filling more than 120 55-gallon drums monthly with scrap metal, which had to be rotated in and out by a private contractor.
New High Efficiency Recycling
New advances in recycling technology can layer several different sustainability improvements on top of each other, and the Chipmunk is a good example. It consumes far less energy than conventional compacting systems because it primarily uses kinetic energy instead of a hydraulic system. It also traps and saves about 98% of waste fluids that are attached to the scrap metal, including coolant that is filtered and re-used. In addition to these direct conservation benefits, the Chipmunk reduces about 20 drums of chips into one cubic yard of aluminum bars, which is a much more attractive product for recyclers and commands a far higher sale price. The manufacturer points out that by recycling oils and coolants, the system can help save on waste disposal costs. Reduced labor costs and more efficient use of floor space are two other bottom-line considerations.
The U.S. Department of Defense and Community Sustainability
As part of the Army’s Life Cycle Management Command, Tobyhanna is squarely in the pipeline for new sustainability initiatives, and the funds came from a designated recycling budget. The idea for purchasing the Chipmunk was submitted to the depot’s Environmental Division from an employee, as a means of simplifying the onerous task of filling and moving up to seven barrels of scrap in a single eight-hour shift. It may be no coincidence that another early adopter of the Chipmunk is a defense contractor, Production Engineering Corp. It’s just one example of the military’s focus on pushing sustainability by developing new green tech and serving as a showcase for success, with a ripple effect on suppliers and into the civilian mainstream. It’s also another point of contrast between the “drill baby drill” mentality and genuine efforts to support a strong national defense by adopting more sustainable, energy efficient processes.
Image: Chipmunk by mctheriot on flickr.com.
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