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NEWS | Feb. 21, 2023

Tobyhanna earns high-level environmental award from the Department of Energy

By Ms. Danielle E. Weinschenk

A longstanding commitment to environmental stewardship netted Tobyhanna Army Depot recognition at the federal level – a project-based Federal Energy and Water Management Award.

The Federal Energy and Water Management Awards recognize individuals, groups, and agencies for their outstanding contributions in the areas of energy and water efficiency, resilience, and technology achievements; distributed energy; cybersecurity; and fleet management at federal facilities. Tobyhanna was honored for its pilot to implement and utilize microbial fuel cells (MFCs) to produce electricity while simultaneously treating wastewater.

The pilot, aimed at increasing water resiliency and sustainability, was a collaboration between TYAD, the Pennsylvania State University, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Construction Engineering Research Laboratory, part of USACE’s Engineer Research and Development Center. Use of MFCs is a novel approach to wastewater treatment, according to Amalia Thomas.

“Conventional processes rely on energy-intensive aeration processes. With the MFC, not only are we using less energy – we are generating it.”  Thomas is an environmental engineer in the Installation Services Directorate.

The six-month pilot consisted of MFCs (the largest ever recorded) with air cathodes and bio-filters, which generate electrical energy from the oxidation of organic matter and divert organic matter content. The MFCs started producing useful electricity only three days after startup, showing a large impact of the availability of wastewater to generate power.

The pilot’s energy reduction results were staggering. The MFC treated domestic wastewater using 75% less electricity compared to conventional treatment methods. In addition, the MFC was more effective at removing bacteria from the wastewater. The system is also portable – creating endless opportunities for use, according to Thomas.

“If this system was adopted across the Department of Defense (DoD), there would be potential for significant savings in energy, resources and space requirements.”

Results from the project were published in Water Research, the journal of the International Water Association.

Thomas and colleagues from the Environmental Branch received the award on Tobyhanna’s behalf, at the first-ever in-person ceremony for the Awards. She says the recognition was validating.

“It was an honor to be involved in such an innovative project and to learn the importance of research into renewable resources. Being at the awards ceremony allowed me to meet other energy and water innovators throughout the DoD, all reaching for the same energy and resource reduction goals. It was refreshing to meet new people with similar interests and perspectives on energy and water management,” she said.

The project also earned accolades for Penn State participants. Ruggerio Rossi, assistant research professor in the Penn State Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, was honored with the International Society for Microbial Electrochemistry and Technology 2022 Innovation Award for best technological development, and the International Society for Electrochemistry-Elsevier Prize for Green Electrochemistry.

The wastewater treatment pilot and Tobyhanna’s spate of eco-friendly programs are directly aligned with the organization’s long-range strategic plan, TOBY2035. The plan, which has four areas (C5ISR Readiness, Invest in Our People, Shape the Future and Strategic Communications), strives to position Tobyhanna for success in the coming years as the Department of Defense's premier worldwide C5ISR readiness provider.

Tobyhanna Army Depot is a recognized leader in providing world-class logistics support for command, control, communications, computers, cyber, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C5ISR) systems across the Department of Defense. Tobyhanna’s Corporate Philosophy, dedicated work force and electronics expertise ensure the depot is the Joint C5ISR provider of choice for all branches of the Armed Forces and industry partners.

Tobyhanna’s unparalleled capabilities include full-spectrum logistics support for sustainment, overhaul and repair, fabrication and manufacturing, engineering design and development, systems integration, post production software support, technology insertion, modification, foreign military sales and global field support to our joint warfighters.

About 3,100 personnel are employed at Tobyhanna, located in the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania. Tobyhanna Army Depot is part of the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command. Headquartered at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, the command’s mission is to empower the Soldier with winning C5ISR capabilities.