January 2006

United States Army base blasts with recycled glass in UK

The United States Army has completed a major maneuver by switching to environmentally friendly grit blast media, made from recycled glass, at its Field Support Battalion base near Southampton.

Glass grit, sourced from preprocessor Krysteline, is being used to refurbish military equipment - including land vehicles, generators and watercraft - at the site in Hythe after the army switched from using traditional copper slag.

Grit blasting involves abrasive particles being powered onto a surface using high pressure air and is often the fastest and most thorough means of cleaning, descaling, deburring and removing oxides or other surface contaminants. The process is widely used in many industries, including aerospace, construction and transport.

In addition to helping environmental sustainability, recycled glass grit’s main benefits are that it is non-toxic, inert and does not cause respiratory or environmental problems. It contains negligible levels of chlorides and salts that can corrode clean surfaces and its residue being classed as a nuisance dust, rather than hazardous waste, means disposal costs can be lower.

The introduction of U.S. HAZMAT regulations, governing the use of hazardous materials, was another factor in the unit reconsidering its choice of abrasive.

Colin Buchanan, paint supervisor and HAZMAT officer at the U.S. Army Field Battalion, said, “The unit has been particularly impressed that glass grit creates significantly less dust during the blasting process, which had been a problem for us in the past, and any it does generate is easily controlled.

“Another benefit we have identified is that, in addition to complying with HAZMAT regulations, the glass grit can be disposed of in a number of ways, without presenting an environmental hazard. It has also proved more cost-effective than many of the alternative materials we investigated.”

The eleven-acre army site offers facilities tailored for the maintenance, overhaul and storage of forward deployed combat equipment.

Many of the vehicles have suffered significant war damage, making it necessary to strip back all paint on the chassis and bodywork, to determine what metal damage has been caused.

Once stripped to bare metal, the parts are blasted with TruGrit recycled glass blast media in preparation for repairs and re-painting, in the appropriate camouflage colors, ready for release back into service.

Mr Buchanan said, “By sharing the results of the tests here, we hope to encourage other army sites across the world to consider switching to glass grit. The benefits it offers in terms of cleanliness, ease of control, cost effectiveness and environmental performance all add up to make it an ideal product for blasting.”

At Hythe, two types of equipment are used during the blasting process; a standard shot blast system and a portable, lightweight blasting gun, which enables paint to be stripped layer-by-layer. Currently the unit uses four tons of medium grade (0.75 - 1.5mm) glass grit every week, at a pressure of 200 PSI.

Bronnie Allen, materials development manager (Glass) at WRAP, said: “Recycled glass grit has been proved in the United States to achieve a suitable surface profile on steel for paints and coatings. It has been used for cleaning many different surfaces very successfully in this country but, up to now, usually in environmentally sensitive locations, such as near watercourses.”

Recycled glass is available manufactured to BSI PAS 102 specifications, meaning buyers can procure material confident it is fit for use.

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