A professor of engineering has created a new portable water reclamation system which could radically change the way the military deals with its wastewater at forward operating bases and has potential for deployment during civil emergencies. The wastewater system, built into a repurposed shipping container, is highly efficient, low power, and low maintenance.
“Currently, human wastes are typically burned in burn pits, and the wastewater is usually hauled away and dumped by local contractors. This results in high costs, security issues, potential health risks, negative environmental impacts to the hosting country and a potential negative image.” – Dr. Jianmin Wang
Dr. Jianmin Wang, professor of engineering at Missouri University of Science and Technology, designed the wastewater containers with few mechanical parts, and says they are designed tough enough to be deployable on site by helicopters. Although the system was created with the military in mind, Wang says it could be deployed just about anywhere, including small rural communities with no wastewater facilities.
Wangâ€™s system is called a baffled bioreactor (BBR), and it modifies the conventional activated sludge process by using baffles to create an intermediate settling chamber for sludge return which is maintenance-free. The wastewater system uses low-tech parts from off-the-shelf to treat the wastewater using microorganisms to break down organic pollutants, and returns it at a level exceeding federal standards. The resulting water can then be used for non-contact applications.
According to the professor, a typical forward operating base of 600 soldiers requires 22 trucks per day to supply water and fuel, as well as removing solid waste and wastewater. With most freshwater being trucked in from outside the base, deploying the system to convert wastewater to reusable water on site would decrease both the cost and demand for freshwater, while improving the base environment.
The U.S. Army recently approved the professorâ€™s request to demonstrate a full-scale, company-size water reclamation station for advanced wastewater and non-potable reuse, which will also examine the feasibility of producing potable water from wastewater during emergency situations.
“A lesson learned from Hurricane Katrina is that untreated sewage can cause many health and psychological problems for displaced people. The transportable, modular baffled reactor units could even be deployed to regions where natural disasters occur to quickly prevent untreated wastewater discharge and improve hygiene.” – Wang
Wang says his system could also be appropriate for mobile home parks, motels, and highway rest areas.