A system developed by the U.S. military to neutralize deadly chemical warfare agents was deployed earlier this year to the Middle East to assist efforts to eliminate Syria’s stockpile.
The Field Deployable Hydrolysis System (.pdf), or FDHS, was originally intended for use on land. But due to the nature of the conflict on the ground in Syria, designers from the U.S. Army’s Edgewood Chemical and Biological Center (ECBC), working with Ryan Madden, Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) FDHS program manager, redesigned FDHS into a ship-based system.
FDHS was installed on the U.S. ship, the MV Cape Ray, a 650-foot long vessel headed for the Mediterranean Sea, and will be able to neutralize about 700 metric tons of mustard gas and the nerve agent sarin.
The system uses a tested method of adding water and neutralizer to a chemical to remove its effectiveness, a process already used by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) in its own chemical weapons elimination program, to destroy hundreds of tons of deadly mustard and nerve agents. While the process does produce a caustic effluent, comparable to a powerful drain cleaner, the chemical agent is rendered basically useless and impossible to reconstitute as a deadly weapon again.
DoD officials estimate the system can process from five to 25 metric tons per day. The beauty of the system is it is capable of being loaded onto a ship where security and control of the process is better assured, than trying to carve out a section of potentially hostile land in a country torn by civil war. In addition, because FDHS can use a variety of water sources, such as fresh, brackish, or seawater, the ship has the potential to pump almost limitless amounts of seawater into the system, sparing the use of precious freshwater supplies … all in a predominately arid region of the world. In addition, the FDHS includes a bladder system to capture any residual toxic waste.
Putting a proven land-based system into a field-deployable shipboard format was a major challenge for the DTRA CB ECBC team. About a year ago, long before diplomatic efforts resulted in the current agreement where the Syrian government is allowing for the destruction of its chemical warfare capability, the team was asked to find a solution. Within six months, the DTRA-backed team successfully produced a field-deployable prototype that fits in a series of standard shipping containers, directly leading to the Cape Ray solution.