Engineers in the Chemical Biological Applications and Risk Reduction, known as CBARR, field response unit at the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, or ECBC, were recently granted a United States patent for the Field Deployable Hydrolysis System.
The system, known as the FDHS, was used in 2014 to destroy 600 tons of Syria’s declared chemical warfare material aboard a maritime vessel in international waters as part of a multinational forces effort.
Patent no. 9,592,414 B1 was granted to seven ECBC employees and reads as “transportable and modular field deployable hydrolysis system for neutralizing toxic chemical agents.”
The patent certificates were presented to the team during a CBARR staff meeting on June 13, to the surprise of most of the recipients. “We completed the paperwork for the patent almost three years ago,” said Adam Baker, one of the patent holders. “We heard recently that it was coming through but we didn’t know when it was going to be awarded and we certainly didn’t know that we were going to be presented with the patent at the meeting.”
The awardees of the patent include Tim <FZ,1,0,5>Blades, director of operations for CBARR; Ray DiBerardo, CBARR’s project manager for the FDHS; Baker, who assisted DiBerardo as deputy project manager; Jeff Gonce, CBARR’s equipment manager; Jason Adamek, an ECBC engineer on the Advanced Design and Manufacturing (ADM) Team; David Kline, a CBARR mechanical engineer; and Brian O’Donnell, a CBARR project manager who was assigned to the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense when the FDHS was being developed.
“This patent is not just a reflection of the seven people named on the patent, but it reflects upon the nearly 40 people who worked on the team,” said DiBerardo.
DiBerardo said the project was a collaborative effort between all three directorates within ECBC. CBARR, which is part of the Directorate of Program Integration, had the lead in the design and construction. Adamek and the ADM Team in the Engineering Directorate worked on modeling utilizing computer assisted design software. Baker worked with the Research and Technology Directorate’s chief scientist, Fred Berg Ph.D., on the chemistry.
“The collaboration within ECBC for this project could be a great model to use in the future if we ever get another project of this magnitude,” DiBerardo said.
The technology was developed in 2013 in response to concerns over the ability to provide a transportable destruction technology to neutralize toxic chemical materials, according to Tom Rosso, CBARR’s program management chief. He said the patent describes the FDHS, its potential deployment in permissive and semi-permissive environments, and the potential deployment and use aboard a ship.
While the FDHS was used to primarily destroy mustard agent and DF (a Sarin precursor), it was designed to destroy those materials and two additional chemical agent precursors that could have potentially been included in the destruction mission, Baker said. Baker worked with Berg, who performed lab-scale testing of the chemicals, to come up with the formulas needed to neutralize the chemicals. “We formulated all the recipes to treat each chemical and determined how to scale-up the lab results for use in the system,” Baker said.
The project started in Feb. 2013 on a six-month development timeline, then the target date was moved up as need for the technology escalated. The team demonstrated its first prototype on June 27, 2013 and eventually built seven units. The last one was completed in May 2014.
In November 2013, the first two units were dispatched to Portsmouth, Va., where they were installed and tested aboard the U.S. Maritime Administration vessel MV Cape Ray. The ship arrived in Spain in Feb. 2014, where DiBerardo and the remaining crew members met the ship. The chemical agent stockpile was taken out of Syria by United Nations teams and in July 2014 the ship received the chemical agent. Destruction operations with the FDHS were performed in international waters. The mission was completed in six weeks.
All FDHS units are kept at Edgewood Area Aberdeen Proving Ground in various configurations. One fully installed unit is on display at ECBC’s Bush River facility, where tours are held for visitors. Another one was on display in the showcase at the centennial celebration for the 100th anniversary of ECBC on June 15. The two that were actually used for the Syrian mission have been disassembled and remain in storage. They will not be used again.
Work began on the patent while the crew was still aboard the ship, with ECBC’s patent attorney John Biffoni corresponding from Edgewood. The seven men who were responsible for the FDHS completed an invention disclosure, which provides basic information about an invention in the inventors’ words. “That’s the first step in the patent process at ECBC,” Biffoni said.
The inventors signed the documents when they arrived home in September 2014. “After that, we heard nothing until March of this year when John sent me an email confirming we received the patent with the patent number,” DiBerardo said.
However, work on the patent process continued behind the scenes with the intellectual property law team and ECBC’s Office of Technology Transfer taking the lead. Using the invention disclosure, Biffoni drafted a patent specification and claims, and filed a patent application in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Patent examiners review the patent applications to determine if the inventions are “novel, non-obvious and useful,” in accordance with existing laws on patentability, Biffoni said.
Patents serve various roles for the Army and the center, Biffoni said. “Patents protect the Army’s investment in research and development, and the products that result from R&D,” he said. “They give us a technical record of the innovation that takes place here.” Patents also protect the center if other parties are developing similar technologies, he added.
“If the patent has any commercial applications, then we look for licensing partners,” said Amanda Hess, chief of the ECBC Office of Technology Transfer. Her office develops agreements with companies to license the technology. “Licensing agreements can lead to job creation in the private sector, new products and services, and provide royalties and monetary recognition for both the center and the inventor.”
Inventors may receive up to $150,000 per year in royalties, according to federal guidelines. When income is received from licensing a patent, each inventor receives $2,000 from the initial income earned by the invention annually; afterward, they receive 20 percent and 80 percent goes to the lab, Hess said. Eligible inventors also receive a monetary award of $200 when the patent application is filed and another $250 – $500 when the patent issues.
By the end of June, ECBC will have received its 15th patent of the current fiscal year. On average, ECBC receives about 20 patents a year out of about 150 patents the Army’s laboratories and research centers receive yearly, Biffoni said.
This is DiBerardo’s second patent. While assigned to the U.S. Army Chemical Materials Activity, he was named as one of the patent holders for the Explosive Destruction System (EDS), a technology operated by ECBC in the chemical demilitarization sphere to destroy recovered and stockpile chemical munitions at current and former military installations around the country. DiBerardo remains involved in some EDS missions for CBARR and provides input to the system’s proposed design changes.
The FDHS and the work the team did aboard the MV Cape Ray has received international acclaim and garnered several awards, including the Army’s highest safety award.