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The Military United States Biotech Government Science Technology

US Military Seeks Biodegradable Bullets That Sprout Plants (newatlas.com) 285

The Department of Defense is looking at ways to clean up the hundreds of thousands of training rounds used by the U.S. army. It is putting out the call for the development of biodegradable ammunition loaded with seeds that sprout plans after being discharged. New Atlas reports: At military facilities across the U.S. and indeed around the world, a huge number of rounds are fired for training purposes, ranging from low-velocity 40 mm grenades, to mortars, to 155 mm artillery rounds. All of these feature components that can take hundreds of years to biodegrade, and falling onto the ground in such great numbers means that finding and cleaning them up is no small task. But left behind, they can corrode and pollute the soil and water supplies. So the Department of Defense has put out a call for proposals through the Small Business Innovation Research agency that solve the problem. The DoD describes the solution as a naturally occurring biodegradable material that can replace those used in current training rounds. It imagines that the biodegradable composites will be capable of holding bioengineered seeds inside (a technology it says has been demonstrated previously), that won't germinate until they have been in the ground for several months. Then plants will sprout from the discharged ammunition that actively remove soil contaminants and consume the other biodegradable components. Also imperative is that animals are able to safely consume the plants.
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US Military Seeks Biodegradable Bullets That Sprout Plants

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  • by turkeydance ( 1266624 ) on Monday January 09, 2017 @08:29PM (#53637995)
    they FEED people.
    • I was thinking that they should use the seeds from the plants that are used to make "funny cigarettes". I am sure there must be military bases in states where "funny cigarettes" are legal. The US military budget could be assisted by the harvest and sale of "funny cigarette" plants on their training grounds.

      "Roll me up that funny cigarette . . . " -- The Asylum Street Spankers

      • by AJWM ( 19027 )

        "Well, I may be crazy, but I think not.
        I'd swear to God that I smell pot.
        But who'd have pot here in Vietnam?
        He said, 'What do you think you're sittin' on?'"

          -- Tom Paxton, "Talking Vietnam Potluck Blues"

  • by Kobun ( 668169 ) on Monday January 09, 2017 @08:33PM (#53638039)
    What a great game ... sproutin' good guys and bad in the 90's. :) I think GOG.com has a re-mastered version? If they do, I'll probably lose a couple of weeks to that when I pick it up.
    • Yeah, the remastered version is really nicely done. I picked it up as soon as I heard about it. I was surprised how much of the game I'd forgotten. Since I was short on time, I cracked and went to cheat guides pretty shortly after starting so I could blaze through it.
    • If they do, I'll probably lose a couple of weeks to that when I pick it up.

      I've got some good news for you: they made it point and click.

    • by maugle ( 1369813 )
      Clicked on this solely to find out how far I'd need to scroll before the first Grim Fandango reference.
  • I don't know of any material with a density suitable for behaving properly as a projectile that doesn't contain toxic metals. The high-gravity-compound plastics have metal filler.

    • I don't know of any material with a density suitable for behaving properly as a projectile that doesn't contain toxic metals. The high-gravity-compound plastics have metal filler.

      Many training rounds do NOT need to have the same ballistic behavior as the real thing - they just need to let the weapon cycle correctly. That's usually the whole point.

      • by AJWM ( 19027 )

        If that's all you're doing, blanks with a BFA work fine (mostly).

        Although you still leave a ton of brass lying around.

    • Concrete.

      Ceramics.

      Glass.

      Walnut shell.

      Wood.

    • I don't know of any material with a density suitable for behaving properly as a projectile that doesn't contain toxic metals.

      Actually platinum would work well; it's twice the density of lead and chemically inert. Cost might be an issue though.

    • ecomass (Score:4, Informative)

      by slew ( 2918 ) on Monday January 09, 2017 @10:11PM (#53638671)

      I don't know of any material with a density suitable for behaving properly as a projectile that doesn't contain toxic metals. The high-gravity-compound plastics have metal filler.

      Ecomass [ecomass.com] is apparently a tungsten/polymer composite that was designed to meet current U.S. Army specs for nontoxic training ammunition. It of course has Tungsten powder in it which is somewhat toxic, however it is bound with a polymer, and is not nearly as environmentally toxic as lead. About the only compounds that you could use that would be less toxic would probably be Bismuth (which is used as a lead replacement). Of course you could also use silver, gold, and platinum, but that would be some mighty expensive bullets (of course even tungsten is very expensive compared to lead ~15x).

  • the probelm,

    The army fires lots of training rounds that are a concentrated health and enviromental hazard

    the US military solution expensive biodegradble seed bullets

    The practical solution.

    Dig down 20 feet and pour 3 feet of renforced concrete, in roughly a hill bunker shape. pour dirt on top. Fire away for a year. once a year dig down to the concrete and put all the dirt into a giant sifter and sorter. collect all the bullets, and metal them down for reuse.

    They are training rounds fired on training fiel

    • Trench warfare went out of style with the invention of the Blitzkrieg, or what the U.S military likes to call it "Shock and Awe." The issue is not rounds fired at the shooting range, those are easy to clean up with a couple of shovels, what they are worried about is the shells scattered over 100's of square miles of Training grounds during live-fire war games
    • So no woodland training then? Or swamp? Or urban?

      Not to mention this article isn't actually about bullets but larger ordinances, the smallest of which is a 40mm grenade. The current training version of which is plastic wrapped around chalk.

      • Not to mention this article isn't actually about bullets but larger ordinances, the smallest of which is a 40mm grenade. The current training version of which is plastic wrapped around chalk.

        You read the article, didn't you? Trying to make the rest of us look bad?

        • Lol Sorry......

          I was actually really interested for a second, hence the click to the article. If there were 5.56mm bullets that were biodegradable and still had the same firing characteristics it would have been awesome.

          But alas it is for the larger calibre stuff which given they are predominately chalk anyway seems like a massive waste of time and effort.

  • I thought that by definition the bullet was the metal part at the end of the casing. They are talking about 40mm+ ordinance. The 40mm m781 practice grenade is a plastic casing around a chalk core. I would have thought biodegradable plastic would have been relatively simple, and chalk isn't exactly what I think of as a pollutant.

    • Maybe they should throw actual pineapples instead of grenades. That would be biodegradable.
    • > I would have thought biodegradable plastic would have been relatively simple, and chalk isn't exactly what I think of as a pollutant.

      Yep, some of the hippy places serve drinks in biodegradable plastic cups made from corn. In function they are indistinguishable from the popular red Solo cups - not noticeably brittle and prone to breakage or anything when I played with them.

      • Only question I would have is how long can you store them for before they begin to degrade.

        • Dry foods such as pasta and sugar have shelf life measured in years. Pasta can get a slight off taste after a two years or so but it's still edible for five more years.

          I would guess these cups similar - just keep them dry.

  • by jfdavis668 ( 1414919 ) on Monday January 09, 2017 @08:42PM (#53638115)
    Unless the plant is native to the area, keep it out. Last thing we need is another kudzu or similar plant spreading like wildfire.
  • So THAT's where they keep getting these ideas...

  • is part of a healthy and balanced diet.

  • Then plants will sprout from the discharged ammunition that actively remove soil contaminants

    The plant cannot degrade heavy metals, it can only concentrate them. Be sure to not eat that plant, or animals that ate it.

  • He would have had a field day writing these into some sort of dark satirical sci-fi story.

  • by crunchygranola ( 1954152 ) on Monday January 09, 2017 @09:29PM (#53638413)

    Yep. They do. Their annual ammunition buy is currently about 1.8 billion rounds a year, and essentially all of this gets used in training.

    How many rounds do they use in actual combat operations? At the height of the Iraq War the U.S. expended only seventy two million rounds a year [house.gov] in combat. How many were they expending in training each year at that time? 1.1 billion rounds! The rate of training ammunition expenditure has since gone up, and is now 1.8 billion rounds. Before 9/11 the military had a less intense training regimen, they only expended 350 million rounds a year, but that was still five times more than the rate of expenditure in Iraq.

    People are always astounded (incredulous, really) to learn that ammunition used in war these days is just round-off error in training ammo purchases.

    So, yes, not having to clean up one or two billion casings a year would be a big benefit.

  • Don't know why steel-cored bullets can't be collected with something like Mr. White's electromagnet truck.

  • . All of these feature components that can take hundreds of years to biodegrade, and falling onto the ground in such great numbers means that finding and cleaning them up is no small task.

    If you are on a training range and the rounds aren't overwhelmingly landing into a small well defined area, it's a far bigger problem than non biodegradable ammo.

  • ABORIGINES, n. Persons of little worth found cumbering the soil of a newly discovered country. They soon cease to cumber; they fertilize.
  • I don't see the newsworthiness in this; it's been done before, just manually. The only advancement here is automating the process.

    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/5/52/Flower_Power_by_Bernie_Boston.jpg [wikimedia.org]

    /s
  • Zardoz is going to be pissed when he finds out that someone is building guns that shoot seeds and makes new life to poison the earth...
  • Calm Down (Score:5, Informative)

    by flink ( 18449 ) on Tuesday January 10, 2017 @01:14AM (#53639615)

    I see a lot of people getting all bent out of shape at the absurdity of the concept of this SBIR topic. I am not a ballistics expert, so I can't comment on that, but please realize that the DoD funds 100s of these grants every year. Most of these, if they are phase I, are very small in scope - $100k - 200k. This is enough to pay a small team working part time to do a feasibility study, create a mock up, or develop a non-working prototype. It's a cheap (for the military) way of bouncing an idea off the wall.

    In addition most SBIRs never make it past phase I development. In all likelihood, less will be spent on this program than is spent on a couple of hours of one of the training exercises they are talking about greening up.

  • US Military were too late to the game.

    On the 4th of January I watched the announcement of a seed gun.

    You can see the video here [youtube.com].

  • Might be okay for practice grenades perhaps, but can "green" bullets reproduce the weight and flight path of bullets used in war? If it doesn't then you might as well be running around shouting "Bang" for all the good it does you. If your practice bullets don't go the same place your real bullets do, you'll be shooting in the wrong place.
    • The question isn't whether or not they can reproduce those factors, but rather, whether or not they can reproduce those factors "well enough," possibly weighed somewhat against how much cost savings could allow for additional training. I would think they are more similar at shorter range, and as long as they have most of the effective range covered, that would allow for most practical tactics outside of snipers.
  • Maybe we can have a war on climate change with these rounds, at least if we can find a way for contractors to make money.
  • packing viable seeds in with biodegradable shell casings seems like a terrible idea from a biodiversity/bioinvasive ecology perspective. The bullets packed with these seeds would undoubtedly be used worldwide without care for native species.

    I can see they're trying to greenwash as hard as they can, but seems like someone missed a couple lectures in environmental studies.

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