Three scientists at the Army’s Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey are developing a way to make non-toxic green signal flares, by eliminating the use of barium. Barium makes the green glow but in addition to being a toxic heavy metal, it is combined with chlorinated compounds to make the flares, so they release PCBs into the air when burned. The research is part of a broader Army project to reduce the use of hazardous materials in military pyrotechnics, which in turn is part of an overall program of reducing or eliminating hazardous materials in military operations across the board. The new flare would replace the standard M125A1 Hand-held Signal Flare among others.
A Greener Alternative to Barium
In one of those fabulous sustainability twofers, the Picatinny scientists hit on boron carbide, which is a cheap, inert ceramic material. In addition to reducing environmental and health risks, the new flare would save money. Boron carbide wasn’t previously considered a candidate for pyrotechnics because it is so inactive, but the researchers cast a wide net and finally found a clue in experiments dating back as far as the 1950’s. The trick was to use the material in a powder form. So far the team has concluded that their pyrotechnic mixture is non-hazardous, and the next step – a long one – is to translate that from the lab into a working device.
Greener Equipment for the U.S. Military and Civilians, Too
The Picatinny scientists foresee that their new flare will cross over into civilian use, not only for emergency signalling but also for fireworks and other recreational uses. That’s just one example of the new green developments that will eventually make the jump, because the military’s work on eliminating hazardous materials is pretty far-ranging. One recent example that got a lot of attention is the new “green ammo,” which replaces lead with a steel core. Last year the Pentagon also made the elimination of hexavalent chromium (think Erin Brokovich) a top priority, and it is working intensively on greener anti-corrosion coatings. As an interim measure, the military is stepping up its hazardous materials tracking systems, using a bar code scanner system to reduce waste and provide for more efficient compliance with new environmental regulations.
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Image: Green light by Napalm filled tires on flickr.com
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