Propellants from dismantled weapons are usually burned or buried. Borrowing a process from Los Alamos National Laboratory, Plasma Technology Inc. in nearby Santa Fe, N.M., not only breaks down the propellants in an environmentally friendly way but turns the components into useful gases. The propellant gases are placed into a gas plasma that's heated to 800C to 1,600C, which breaks the propellants down into their primary components. Those components can then be reformed into useful gases that can be burned for electricity or used as a feedstock for methanol or fertilizer.
Plasma Technology will open its first commercial operation in Ukraine next year. The company, which plans to license the process, puts the worldwide reclamation value of propellant components at up to $5 billion. "Incineration is going to take a lot of heat in the next few years," contends Plasma Tech President and Chief Executive John F. Serino Jr., a retired IBM corporate director of environmental programs. He adds: "We offer an alternative with friendlier emissions, and we end up with a product."