Success Story

Navy Invents Solvent That Solves Environmental Challenge

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Cleaning and degreasing aircraft and automotive parts is a necessary task, one that can be critical to the safety of Navy aircraft. Yet conventional cleaning solvents have presented an environmental and worker-safety problem that the Navy has long sought to alleviate.

Spurred further by tightening environmental regulations, a Navy materials lab at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division in Patuxent River, Maryland, has invented and licensed an environmentally friendly solvent with the potential for widespread military and commercial use.

Conventional petroleum-based solvents are extremely effective cleaners and degreasers, but they contribute to air pollution by emitting volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) during the cleaning process.

The Navy began to collaborate with the Defense Logistics Agency in 2008 to develop a "green" alternative for military use after some states, regional and local jurisdictions began tightening restrictions on the release of VOCs. Southern California's standards were of particular concern, significantly limiting VOC content to no more than 25 grams per liter. Typical cleaning solvents in use by the Navy contain more than 700 grams per liter of VOCs, as well as high levels of HAPs, which also have come under tightening federal restrictions. The Navy strongly desired a cleaning solvent that could meet the strictest air quality standards in the nation without compromising performance.

The result was NavSolve¨, a nontoxic, non-petroleum-based solvent that contains no HAPs and has low VOCs, but works just as well as conventional solvents. NavSolve¨ was invented by Dr. El Sayed Arafat, a chemist with the Materials Engineering Division, Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division.

According to Arafat, "NavSolve¨ cleaner will allow the Navy to comply with local environmental regulations, while providing a safer cleaner to the fleet."

Cold solvent cleaning of aircraft parts is performed at organizational, intermediate and depot-level maintenance facilities, and usually takes place in either spray sinks or dip tanks. Cleaning carbon residue and grease from those parts is necessary so inspectors can check them for wear and cracks before rebuilding and returning them to service.

During the NavSolve¨ development process, researchers explored several alternatives; however, each had significant challenges that made them less than ideal. For example, while it was possible to meet the strictest environmental standards by using airtight parts washers, the equipment was very expensive. And though water-based parts washers can also meet compliance standards, they do not clean as well and potentially can cause flash rusting.

NavSolve¨ provides an effective, environmentally benign alternative that is safer for workers to use, noncorrosive, and compatible with both metals and nonmetals. It has been certified as meeting the strictest air quality standards in the nation, as well as the relevant military performance standards.

Despite NavSolve's¨ long list of benefits, it is more expensive to produce than competing, petroleum-based products on the market. To encourage manufacturers to produce the product and deliver it to the Navy, the technology transfer team at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division, in Patuxent River, Maryland, recommended that the technology be transferred through multiple nonexclusive licenses.

The team identified 25 potential licensees; of those, 12 entered into limited purpose Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (LP CRADAs) to conduct their own evaluation tests of the technology.

Two companies have entered into patent license agreements (PLAs) to date. Armick Chemicals, LLC, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, decided to forego the LP CRADA route and instead opted to immediately enter into PLA negotiations to add NavSolve¨ to its current product line, which includes other Navy cleaning agents, and licensed the technology in 2010. The following year a license was issued to Ecolink Inc., of Tucker, Georgia, which sells environmentally friendly solvents. While both companies are waiting for their products to undergo the necessary Qualified Products List studies before supplying NavSolve¨ to the military, they are already marketing the product to private companies.

Because of tighter air pollution regulations, NavSolve¨ could eventually replace conventional solvents not just in the military, but in the manufacturing, transportation and construction industries. Uses include maintenance of commercial aircraft, as well as automobile and truck fleets.

NavSolve¨ was chosen by the Office of the Secretary of Defense as the 2011 "Hot Technology of the Year," and it was also selected for presentation at the 2011 World's Best Technologies Innovation Marketplace. The NavSolve¨ team has been further honored with a 2012 FLC Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer.

NavSolve¨ has truly "solved" the environmental and safety problems related to parts cleaning and degreasing, enabling the Navy to continue to service the Fleet even under the strictest environmental regulations.