USS Gerald R. Ford’s (CVN 78) Lesser-Known, Trash Disposal Technology, Plasma Arc Waste Destruction System

March 11, 2021 | By Lt. Cmdr. Chris Buchanan

By Lt. Cmdr. Chris Buchanan, Assistant Supply Officer, USS Gerald R. Ford

During independent steaming event (ISE) 7, USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) served more than 100,000 meals to the crew and an additional 500 ship riders. The aircraft carrier also processed 42,000 pounds of trash.

For a floating city conducting air operations in an ocean environment, trash disposal is extremely critical but probably the least appreciated aspect of sustained operations. Without a trash disposal system, the ship would be forced to reduce operations, eventually returning to port to off-load trash.
Ford currently relies on its critical new technology, Plasma Arc Waste Destruction System (PAWDS), to support the crew and ship riders and to keep the ship fully operational.

PAWDS eliminates more than 400 pounds of trash an hour—that’s 400 pounds of diverse trash materials, including plastic, that can be safely discharged while at sea. No trash products are kept aboard, as was the case
with legacy system plastic pucks that required storage and offload in port.

Lt. Cmdr. Michael Knickerbocker, Ford’s auxiliary engineering officer, explains that PAWDS fully supports flight operations.

“PAWDS is actually able to process plastic where a traditional compression melt unit can't, eating up valuable storage space for plastic pucks, which is just one more thing to offload in port,” said Knickerbocker. “PAWDS’ awesome plastic eating capability is due to its vaporizing destructiveness vice material burning, which also allows us to operate PAWDS during flight operations as there is no smoke generated, just a non-viscous
vapor.”

Through a process of plasma arc gasification— where a plasma torch powered by an electric arc ionizes gas to catalyze organic matter into syngas primarily made up of hydrogen and carbon monoxide—PAWDS
reduces trash to vapor.

Trash aboard must be separated into five different categories before PAWDS can destroy it: metal, plastic, paper, food, and wood, because PAWDS uses an ideal recipe to maximize efficiency. Paper bags of separated
trash are fed into a shredder and then into a mill, transforming the feedstock into a lint-like powdered material. This feedstock is then fed continuously into the plasma- fired eductor and chamber, which completely obliterates the waste. The gas produced is immediately quenched, cleaned, and then exhausted to the atmosphere.

While it may not be a pretty process, PAWDS enables Ford’s around-the-clock flight operations.