Green Manufacturing and Maintenance
Each year the Department of Defense contracts for the manufacture of a wide array of weapons systems and support equipment. DoD also maintains tens of thousands of aircraft, ground vehicles, and ships. Maintenance can range from minor repairs conducted in the field to complete overhauls in repair depots and logistics centers. The manufacture and maintenance of weapons systems and platforms often require the use of toxic or hazardous chemicals and materials for which there are both environmental and worker health issues.
Hazardous chemicals and materials are commonly used to protect weapons systems from environmental degradation, including corrosion and wear, because they provide the best performance. Recent studies have indicated that the annual cost to DoD for corrosion protection and mitigation alone is in excess of $20 billion. The principal method for protecting against corrosion is through the use of surface engineering technologies such as paints and other types of coatings, many of which contain cadmium, volatile organic compounds, and chromates where the chromium is in the hexavalent state. Protection against wear has often involved deposition of hard chrome plating, which is conducted in a tank containing chromic acid, with chromium also being in the hexavalent state.
The development of alternative surface treatments that contain no toxic or hazardous materials yet provide equivalent or superior protection against environmental degradation is a significant challenge. SERDP and ESTCP have a goal to develop new, less toxic materials that can be used in surface engineering applications without sacrificing performance and with equivalent or lower life-cycle costs. The largest area of investment has been related to developing alternatives to hexavalent chromium. Learn more about DoD’s efforts to eliminate the use of hexavalent chromium.
In some cases, DoD does not take the lead in the development of an alternative, but must adapt to changes in materials availability due to domestic or international regulations, or changes in commercial business practices. The best example of this is the transition to lead-free solder on electronic components. For more than 50 years the electronics industry has relied on tin-lead solder as the primary means of interconnection between electronic devices. However, recent regulatory changes have forced industry to adopt solders free of lead, and new products in the commercial sector are being introduced almost exclusively in lead-free form. Avionics, aerospace, and other defense electronics have much more stringent reliability requirements and are used for much longer lifetimes than typical commercial products. However, manufacturers of these types of electronics must rely on suppliers who are converting to lead-free, and many components of military systems will soon be available only in lead-free form. Based on current scientific information, there are reliability risks in using lead-free solder in high-performance electronics. Read more about ongoing efforts associated with lead-free electronics.