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HILL, USU PLAN TO CONVERT ROCKET FUEL INTO FERTILIZER

SHARE HILL, USU PLAN TO CONVERT ROCKET FUEL INTO FERTILIZER

In bygone eras, warriors who had seen too much of the battlefield simply beat their spears into pruninghooks and settled down on a farm.

Weapon conversion is a lot more complicated now. Hill Air Force Base and Utah State University agreed last week to a joint venture converting rocket fuel from unserviceable Sidewinder missiles into fertilizer and commercial explosives.Fuel conversion is probably a little too high-tech to make it into Isaiah 2:4, but it's very useful nonetheless, officials say.

"(Currently) there's no methodology to recycle the fuel," said Len Barry, Hill's director of public affairs. "This way it's an environmentally friendly way to dispose of it and actually to salvage it and use it."

At present, missiles too old to be relied upon any longer are taken to the Utah Test and Training Range west of the Great Salt Lake and either burned or detonated, precluding possible alternative uses and soiling the environment to boot.

The missile's rocket fuel, which has the consistency of hard rubber, is designed to propel the air-to-air Sidewinder to its destination. Under the new agreement, Thiokol will take that fuel out of its housing and cut it into small chips that will then be sold to mining and construction companies as industrial explosives. USU is working on tools used to extract and manipulate the fuel.

"It's a tricky process," said Frank Redd, head of USU's Aeronautical and Mechanical Engineering Department. "If you go too fast and generate too much heat, you could blow it up."

In the face of continual military downsizing, including the realignment of Tooele Army Depot and the threatened closure of Hill, state officials have put a lot of effort into converting military technologies to civilian use. Hill and USU were brought together by the Intermountain Technology Alliance, a government/military consortium created by state authorities last March with the mandate of brokering technology transfer agreements like this one.

"We thought this (agreement) would be a very good first effort," said Debra Tanzi, director of the Alliance. "This is just one of the legs of the table that we're forming for the state of Utah as a center for demilitarization."

The state is financing the project with $200,000 out of the $1.5 million Defense Conversion Fund. It views the payment as seed money to spur larger projects, including possible conversion of the much bigger intercontinental Minuteman missiles.

"This effort with the Sidewinders is really just an investment in the future," Redd said. "This is just a drop in the bucket as to what the potential is. It has all kinds of good implications for the state of Utah."