Gradient Technology conducts basic and applied research in the areas of chemistry, chemical engineering, and renewable energy with an emphasis on high-pressure waterjets, energetic materials, and torrefaction. The scale of these research endeavors ranges from the bench to large pilot plants and process demonstration units. Gradient Technology maintains a 1,000 ft2 wet chemistry and analytical laboratory, a 2,500 ft2 waterjet research laboratory, and a 2,000 ft2 process testing area.
Demilitarization— A core function of Gradient Technology’s scientists and engineers is to conduct basic and applied research when developing demilitarization solutions. Basic research is typically conducted in Gradient Technology’s laboratory on a small scale when using energetic materials. Large-scale research is also conducted in our dedicated process area where equipment requiring a larger footprint can be integrated and operated.
Renewable Energy— Gradient Technology has conducted extensive research in the areas of gasification, renewable syngas-to-liquids technology, and torrefaction of lignocellulosic biomass. Our scientists and engineers have been working with the State of Minnesota and the University of Minnesota to develop and advance renewable energy pathways that leverage underutilized resources.
Gradient Technology’s wet chemistry and analytical laboratory is a flexible operational space in which we conduct basic and applied research as well as provide analytical testing services. Our laboratory contains a variety of research and analytical tools such as chromatographs (both gas and liquid) with various detectors, thermal analysis instruments such as a thermal gravimetric analyzer (TGA) and differential scanning calorimeter (DSC), particle size analyzer, weighing scales, furnaces, and wet chemistry equipment. Program-specific equipment is also designed and fabricated in-house for experimentation at larger scales. The laboratory contains two large walk-in style fume hoods for pilot-scale testing. Since Gradient Technology’s laboratory, engineering staff, and fabrication, integration, and testing facility are co-located, basic and applied research can be executed very efficiently. In cases where automation is required for data acquisition and/or safe operation, in-house control systems are rapidly adapted and programmed by controls engineers.
Basic and applied research efforts require careful planning and execution in order to obtain relevant and accurate data. As a result, Gradient Technology develops and refines experimental matrices, experimental plans, safety assessments, and analytical models with error analysis, to obtain data in a timely and safe manner. Software tools such as OriginLab, Mathematica, Fortran, Cheetah, SolidWorks, and Aspen Plus are utilized to analyze and model data, assess energetic properties, and develop process models.
Gradient Technology routinely develops, integrates, automates, and operates novel laboratory experimentation systems that facilitate data acquisition and reduce experimental time and cost. Automation hardware and software incorporated into these experimental systems include products from NI (formerly National Instruments) and Siemens.
Gradient Technology has applied high-pressure waterjet technology to demilitarization technology development for over 20 years. High-pressure waterjet technology involves the transformation of a flowing high-pressure fluid into a high-velocity jet as it passes through a very small orifice. This high-velocity jet can subsequently entrain abrasive so as to enhance its efficiency in cutting hard materials such as concrete and metals. As a result, these entrainment-style high-pressure jets provide a safe method of cutting ordnance items. Gradient Technology continues to develop, advance, and apply waterjet technology in novel demilitarization scenarios.
Waterjet research and development activities occur in our 2,500 ft2 waterjet research laboratory. This research laboratory utilizes a 100 hp KMT SL-VI high-pressure intensifier capable of delivering 1.9 gpm of water at 60,000 psi. The application of waterjets is routinely incorporated into systems that can be tested in a variety of test equipment that includes a 6,000 gallon water tank for submersed applications, a 40 gallon pressure vessel for simulating deep-water applications, a land-based portable system with a two-axis automated gantry, and an adaptable fixed test stand for customer demonstrations. The waterjet research laboratory is also utilized for rapid prototyping of novel systems that solve demilitarization challenges.
Gradient Technology is a certified KMT high-pressure equipment provider. As a result, KMT pumps, intensifiers, and high-pressure components are the preferred and recommended equipment types used in our development and application efforts. Gradient Technology works closely with KMT engineers as high-pressure waterjet technology advances and maintains a knowledge base at the forefront of the technology and its application.
Pilot plants often allow for data collection and technology development to proceed rapidly and can yield data useful for future scale-up efforts. Gradient Technology has designed and operated dozens of pilot plants ranging from energetic materials processing to lignocellulosic biomass torrefaction and gasification. Our staff engineers routinely transform customer data and requirements into pilot plant detailed designs. Subsequently, our fabricators and integrators transform the detailed design into fully integrated and automated pilot plant systems.
Gradient Technology has designed, fabricated/integrated, and operated pilot plants ranging from the demilitarization of plastic bonded explosives (PBX) to the torrefaction of wood chips. Our PBX demilitarization pilot plant utilizes a high-pressure waterjet to remove aluminized PBX from a warhead. The resulting PBX material is subsequently chemically processed to yield pure streams aluminum powder, RDX explosive and polyurethane binder. Our torrefaction pilot plant utilizes high-pressure steam to effectively torrefy various wood species into higher energy density products. Aside from these two examples, Gradient Technology has also developed and demonstrated pilot plants capable of the following: recovering Composition A energetic formulations from projectiles, chemically separating the three major components (nitrocellulose, nitroglycerine, and nitroguanidine) of triple-base propellant into pure streams, and mechanically removing and recovering red phosphorous from smoke screening grenades.
Gradient Technology has extensive experience in the processing and handling of energetic materials and ordnance. Propellants, explosives, and pyrotechnics (PEP) present significant hazards that necessitate careful attention during their processing. As a result, Gradient Technology employs an explosive safety expert and an explosive ordnance disposal expert. These experts work with our scientists and engineers to ensure safety is at the fore of all laboratory research, pilot plant design and operation, and production-scale system design and operation.
During the development of novel demilitarization solutions, for example, Gradient Technology utilizes its laboratory to collect PEP property data and study reaction and separation mechanisms. Potential demilitarization pathways are readily assessed and scaled-up as needed. During the design of these larger systems, Gradient Technology utilizes its experts, experience, and applicable safety standards in processing PEP so that safe systems are delivered. Automation that allows for unattended or remote operation is routinely incorporated into energetic material processing systems so as to reduce explosive hazards and mitigate associated risks.
Energetic materials Gradient Technology has handled and processed includes Explosive D, picric acid, ammonium perchlorate, red phosphorous, Composition A, Composition B, TNT, RDX, HMX, nitrocellulose, nitroglycerine, nitroguanidine, and a variety of other compounds and formulations. Each of these components presents unique safety considerations, for example, that impact chemical compatibility, materials of construction, and industrial hygiene. Gradient Technology develops processes and fabricates/integrates systems that take into consideration these and numerous other factors so that safe and effective energetic materials processing systems are delivered.