Navy Abandons Water in Test to Clean Military Ballistic Field Gear

This blog is reposted from the California Energy Commission Blog

Ballistic vests are a must-have item for Navy Seabees whose missions tend to put them in harm’s way. The vests are lifesavers designed to handle projectiles and shrapnel but, ironically, they can’t handle water, which means they are difficult to clean. But the California Energy Commission and U.S. Navy are collaborating on a project that could change that. 

In 2015, the Energy Commission awarded a $900,000 grant to Tersus Solutions to demonstrate a laundry process that uses liquid carbon dioxide instead of water to clean uniforms and gear used by the armed forces and first responders.

The year-long demonstration is being held at Naval Base Ventura County, Port Hueneme, where Tersus Solutions built a full-scale laundry to evaluate the technology’s ability to clean and decontaminate a variety of items such as Kevlar ballistic vests, flame resistant garments, sleeping bags, tents and field gear. The initial evaluation will be for the Seabee battle gear, but a wide variety of operational fabrics and garments used by troops will be tested and evaluated.

Water-based cleaning methods can compromise the protective capabilities of fabrics used for combat and emergency gear. The Tersus process uses carbon dioxide, an abundant and naturally occurring gas. When put under high pressure and temperature, it becomes a fluid with solvent properties similar to liquids. Once depressurized, it returns to its gaseous state, leaving items not only clean, but dry. The carbon dioxide is retained, filtered and ready for the next load.

The demonstration will highlight the system’s cleaning performance, reliability, energy savings, water savings and operating costs compared to current laundry methods. Tersus says it expects to reduce water use by 98 percent, energy costs by about 50 percent and overall operating costs by 30 to 60 percent. 

The California Energy Commission and the Department of the Navy will meet at Stanford University Oct. 12 to formalize their ongoing partnership that will help Navy and Marine Corps installations in the state transition to renewable energy alternatives to meet California and the Department of Defense climate and energy goals.