News | May 12, 2021

Virtual workshops examine waste disposal alternatives

By Jake Joy DLA Disposition Services Public Affairs

A first-of-its-kind series of virtual workshops beginning in late May will pit the intellectual know-how of Army Corps of Engineers research and development scientists against the relentless stream of hazardous waste, plastics, tires, and sundry detritus that Defense Logistics Agency Disposition Services personnel dutifully remove on behalf of the warfighters they support.

Such a clash of brain matter vs. discarded matter promises to touch on several novel and emerging ideas about “how to perform disposal that has a positive effect on the environment and economy as a whole,” according to DLA Disposition Services Management and Program Analyst Stephen Sestina.

Sestina primarily focuses on his command’s facilities, contemplating aspects like layout and workflow. In mid-2020, he was part of a work group examining the agency’s used tire business when a helpful tip linked him up with Air Force researchers interested in converting tires into energy. The Air Force had found a company claiming to harness a process called pyrolysis to efficiently prepare tires and other waste to be converted into gasoline, kerosine, natural gas and electricity by way of a contraption they called “the Thermolyzer.” 

In the following months, DLA fact finders visited separate firms in Germany and North Carolina to examine that and other cutting-edge technology types. What if all the unusable tires DLA Disposition Services receives from military units could become fuel or electricity? What about mulch? What about using them for runway repair? The initial reports back have been promising, Sestina said.

“The Thermolyzer was just the starting point,” Sestina said. “One idea morphed into many others. If we can turn tires and other waste into energy, while protecting the environment, that’s a perfect outcome.”

For the virtual workshops, Sestina said property disposal subject matter experts from DLA will be peppering Army Corps of Engineers researchers with problems and challenges the agency faces related to tires, wood, plastics, and hazardous waste disposition. The workshops may lead to a larger symposium involving a host of subject matter experts.

“Specialists will be talking with specialists,” Sestina said. “We’d like to build a coalition between the research and development arms of DLA, the Air Force and Army Corps of Engineers and Disposition Services. Figuring some of these challenges out could potentially save DLA and the services millions of dollars and eventually minimize or eliminate waste and pollution.”

As for tires becoming fuel in the future, Sestina said there is already some positive movement. He said a private company is looking to build a pyrolysis facility in Youngstown, Ohio, and possibly partner with a military service and nearby university to explore more widespread usage of the technology. DLA Disposition Services has pledged to provide tires for the research if it takes place. 

“The main idea with assisting in research and development of this technology is that hopefully, you’ll see more facilities like this eventually pop up all over the country,” Sestina said. “That would make it more convenient and viable.”