From the Army Times
Hot Springs blend controls flying dust
March 28, 2003

Ark. company to supply anti-sand mixture to military

By Jay Hughes
Associated Press

Military officials have ordered a superabsorbent polymer mix developed by a Hot Springs company to help control swirling sand and dust in the deserts of Iraq and Kuwait.

   Ted Douglas, president of Polymers, Inc., said the U.S. Marine Corps has rush-ordered 5,000 pounds of his companyís mixture.

   The Marines recently tested the mix in the California desert and said it "worked beyond our wildest expectations," Douglas said.

   The military wanted to conduct additional on-site testing because the California sand is more coarse than the sand of Kuwait and Iraq, which plays havoc with helicopters and soldiers.

   Superabsorbent polymers are found in everything from baby diapers to soft contact lenses, Douglas said. His company has been working for more than a year on a dustand-sand-control polymer for the military.

   "Sand is a major problem because it gets into the engines," Douglas said Thursday. It also blinds troops as they leave helicopters.

   Douglas said the mixture, composed of two granular components and one in an emulsion, can be spread on sand and then sprayed with water to form a surface capable of keeping sand and dust tamped down for up to six weeks. He said the result is "more like a glue" rather than concrete.

   "It will bind the sand together, but it will still be soft," he said.

   Douglas said he first approached the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with the product more than a year ago. He said he didnít hear back until three weeks ago, when he was contacted by Aicardo Roa-Espinosa, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin.

   Roa-Espinosa, a soil and water engineer, said heíd been asked by other scientists and the military to help solve problems associated with operating helicopters in the desert. Of several companies he contacted, he said, only Polymers, Inc. offered the type of product he was looking for.

   Roa-Espinosa joined Marine Corps personnel at their Twentynine Palms base in California last week for tests to see if the substance could tame the swirling sand clouds helicopters kick up in the desert.

   "In sand, when you bring in helicopters with high-powered rotors, they elevate clouds of sand and dust. Those clouds impair the vision of the pilot and the crew chief, and itís hard to land," he said. "Also, for the moving parts of the helicopter, itís terrible. This equipment is very expensive."

   It took about two days to get the mixture right, but once they nailed it, the compound "works really well," Roa-Espinosa said. It eliminates about 80 percent of the rotor-created clouds.

   He said the polymer mixture binds the sand and provides structure that deserts lack. Douglas said Polymers, Inc. contracts with two companies to manufacture the polymer.

   He provided photographs that show "before and after" results of the polymer mix applied to the desert.

   In one, a Chinook, a dual-rotor helicopter that creates considerable backwash, is seen raising a cloud of dust and sand as it hovers above the ground; in another, no airborne sand is evident.

   If tests in Iraq are successful, Douglas said, "Iíve been told to prepare for major orders" from the military.

   The company, which has been in Hot Springs about eight years, has invented and patented 11 superabsorbent polymers, which are manufactured in various locations in the United States, Germany and France.

   Douglas and his business partner, John-Paul Morrison, developed or invented the polymers and formulas with assistance from consultants, including those who work for the military.

    Information for this article was contributed by Jay Hughes of The Associated Press and Mark Gregory of  The Sentinel-Record in Hot Springs.