VICKSBURG, Miss. -- A trio of researchers from the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s (ERDC) Environmental Laboratory (EL) created a unique tool that can be used by acquisition representatives and material developers to decrease acquisition costs and increase the likelihood of materials moving quickly through the acquisition process.
Receiving a patent in September 2019, the Predictive Environmental Modeling System invention was part of a larger effort to better understand the lifecycle impacts of new military-relevant materials, according to one of the three inventors, research environmental engineer Dr. Jonathon Brame. Brame is now serving with the U. S. Army Combat Capability Development Command (CCDC) as the basic and applied research team lead for CCDC-Atlantic.
Co-inventors are research physical scientists Dr. Mark Chappell and Dr. Michael Mayo, who also continued EL’s efforts in advanced materials testing and environmental impact studies with later patented inventions. The three will be recognized in a patent plaque presentation ceremony to be scheduled later this year by ERDC’s Office of Research and Technology Transfer, which processes patents for the ERDC.
How the modeling system works
As stated in the patent application, their invention is computer software for creating an environmental impact model. The software includes emission objects representing single or compound emissions (for example, a single factory vs. an entire city). These objects include emission properties and a processing function for updating these properties, and a species impact model that represents the impact of an emission on a plant or animal species.
The computer model includes the emission objects on a server, a data interface for receiving emission properties and an instantiation processor for creating more objects. The processors allow statistical extrapolation of value pairs and updating of emission properties.
Brame explained that “in the past, the Army has underestimated the total cost of materials, products and systems, because we didn’t accurately represent long-term sustainment and end-of-life costs. This has caused cost overruns at times, which in turn tightened budgets for future innovation and acquisition.
“Every new material, product or system that will be used by Soldiers has to go through the Army acquisition process, and that acquisition process continues to evolve to incorporate these previously hidden costs.
“For example, the laboratories that are now included under the Army Futures Command developed a Developmental Environmental Health and Safety Evaluation (DESHE) to better understand environment, health and safety (EHS) impacts of novel materials before they went all the way through the acquisition process,” Brame said. “Unfortunately, to fully understand those costs and impacts, the DESHE required as much as $20 million worth of testing for every material.”
He added “at that price point, EHS testing becomes impractical, and will continue to not be performed, which continues the challenge of under-informed life cycle costs.”
Goals of the tools
“The goal of this project was to create simple tools that would allow you to start with inexpensive computational testing, then move forward to more targeted lab testing based on the specific characteristics of the material,” Brame said. “That way, you only do as much testing as is needed based on the use of the material, its potential impact and budget allowance.
“This patent was a way of streamlining some of that preliminary testing to allow us to better understand what tests were needed and to better compare the new material to other materials that we have previously tested more extensively.”
The tool was developed from 2015 to 2017 at the ERDC- EL in Vicksburg, Mississippi.
“As the Army Futures Command continues to refine the Army acquisition process, tools such as this could be crucial to lowering the overall cost of new technologies. It was created at ERDC, as a result of the Life Cycle Assessment program supported by ERDC’s environmental quality and installations business area,” Brame said.