Tactical Garbage to Energy Refinery

The Tactical Garbage to Energy Refinery (TGER) 1.0 system prototype underwent field testing at Camp Victory, Iraq, where it was exposed to unforgiving 120 degree temperatures and sand storms. (Photo courtesy of James Jay Valdes / August 13, 2012)

The U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC) and contracting firm SAIC are answering the Army's call for more green technologies to be developed by partnering to create the Tactical Garbage to Energy Refinery (TGER) 2.0 system.

To do so, ECBC and SAIC have entered into a cooperative research and development agreement - an agreement between a government agency and a private company - to work together on research and development to speed the commercialization of technology.

The TGER system is a deployable unit that is designed to convert military field waste into immediately usable energy at forward operating bases, on the battlefield or in a crisis area. The system is a biorefinery, trailer-mounted hybrid technology capable of converting waste product – such as paper, plastic, packaging and food waste – into electricity via a standard 60-kilowatt diesel generator. It uses fermentation and gasification subsystems in a complementary manner to optimize performance and to address the broadest possible military waste stream.

As ECBC's James Jay Valdes, Ph.D., scientific advisor for biotechnology, points out, "Transporting fuel in and waste out of an operations center creates all sorts of unnecessary problems that can be addressed by the TGER. It allows the warfighter to have a clean environment with a readily available energy source, and it saves the military money and possibly warfighters lives."


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With a zero carbon footprint, the system creates a 30 to 1 reduction in waste, generates a non-toxic ash by-product, which has been tested by the Environmental Protection Agency as completely safe, and decreases diesel usage by an astonishing 95 percent. The net electrical energy efficiency of the system is 90 percent, and only 10 percent parasitic power needed. Additionally, TGER is able to reclaim and distill water from the liquid waste added to the system.

The TGER also addresses two significant problems in an overseas crisis deployment. The first problem is access to dependable energy. Previous operations have shown that, despite advanced logistics and host nation resources, access to fuel – particularly during the early months of a crisis – can be difficult. The second is the cost and operational difficulties for waste disposal. Delivery of materiel to new military positions creates huge volumes of waste, and its removal inflicts costly and complex logistics and security overhead, toU.S. Armed Forces. The TGER system will provide significant cost savings by reducing the need for acquisition and distribution of fuel via convoys vulnerable to attack.

"SAIC is very excited about this waste-to-energy program – it is not every day that we can work on a project that protects military service members' lives as well as the environment. Working with Defense Life Sciences has been extremely rewarding, and we are looking forward to maturing this technology all the way to a Department of Defense fielded system," lead SAIC researcher Geoffrey L. Doyle stated. "We are equally excited about the establishment of a CRADA with ECBC, thus ensuring Dr. Valdes' limitless enthusiasm and invaluable understanding of the technology continues to benefit this program.

In 2008, two TGER 1.0 prototypes of the system were sent to Camp Victory in Iraq, where it underwent unforgiving 120 degree temperatures and sand storms. The TGER 1.0 performed fairly well, even in such stressful conditions. Taking the system out of the laboratory and into the real world allowed the scientists to stress the system to validate what worked and what didn't work. TGER 2.0 was created from all lessons learned from taking TGER 1.0 into a theater of operations.

The military is not the only consumer that would benefit from this dynamic technology created by ECBC and SAIC. According to Valdes, "TGER could provide power in situations such as a post-Hurricane Katrina event, where garbage and waste are readily available but energy is scarce. It could provide enough energy to power hospitals and homes in such cases."

ECBC and SAIC also worked in coordination with the U.S. Army Rapid Equipping Force, Defense Life Sciences LLC and Purdue University developing the TGER system.

How it works

1. Waste materials are collected from the field dining facility.

2. Solid bulk waste materials (cardboard, plastic and other packaging materials) are reduced to particulate and then thermo-chemically converted to a highly energetic synthetic gas.

3. Liquid and wet food waste is introduced to a biocatalytic processing chain that converts those materials to bioethanol.

4. A series of energy and material exchanges between the thermo-chemical and biocatalytic subsystems increase system efficiency and performance.

5. The waste derived synthetic gas and bioethanol are then fumigated to a diesel generator set displacing the diesel fuel demand to less than 5 percent at full electrical load.

6. Water from the liquid food waste is reclaimed and available as heated distilled water.

7. Normal engine exhaust and benign ash are the only system effluents.