As we get closer to July 4th celebrations, fireworks might be the first thing you think of when it comes to explosives, but in Charles County, things that go boom are an everyday focus at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Indian Head (NSWC IH).
As the Navy’s premier facility for ordnance, energetics – the science of explosives -- and explosive ordnance disposal (EOD), the NSWC IH focuses on energetics research and development, including solutions to detect and safely dispose of explosives. A novel Improvised Explosive Device (IED) neutralizing technology (basically, a technology that stops explosives from blowing up) has been developed on the Base in Indian Head and commercialized in a public-private partnership with a local business, Grey Ops. This is that story of innovation, collaboration, and tech transfer.
“Silent Spring” is a Navy patented technology that has been in development since 2012. It gets its name by keeping an explosive silent with a spring-like technology. When the explosive’s molecules are bonded with Silent Spring, you can actually pick up the explosive, and it doesn’t explode.
The product is intended to desensitize explosive hazards--most commonly homemade explosives--to allow the explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) warfighter the ability to safely move explosive materials, increase opportunities for forensic analysis, and minimize damage to existing infrastructure. It was created and developed out of the NSWC IH.
A Public-Private Partnership
In October 2019, the NSWC IH entered into a public-private partnership with locally owned Grey Ops, a technology-transfer firm, to commercialize the Silent Spring product. Under the 5-year partnership agreement, NSWC IH and Grey Ops will jointly manufacture Silent Spring. The partnership will also give the first responder community access to this unique technology.
“These two organizations are leveraging each other’s strengths and creating a better outcome than they could have achieved on their own, “said Tommy Luginbill, co-founder of Grey Ops.
The partnership was made possible through NSWC IH’s CITE designation (received in 2014), which provides the legal authority for them to enter into public-private partnership. These types of agreements leverage existing capabilities and the transfer of developed technology that can have a positive effect on the greater scientific research community, the commercial sector, the economy, consumers, and the public.
This process is called technology transfer – often shortened to tech transfer. Luginbill said, “The process itself is much more complicated and takes a long time, along with efforts by a lot of people. But in a nutshell, tech transfer is private industry partnering with a laboratory, whether it’s research labs with the military or academia or nonprofits, and licensing or purchasing the technology and bringing it out and showing it to the world.”
“Tech transfer has a purpose of commercializing a product,” he said. “Along the way, there are jobs created, relationships built, and other great things, but the goal is that end product. There have been a lot of people involved in getting this product to market.”
It Takes a Community
Silent Spring was commercialized and transferred by Grey Ops. It was created by people working at NSWC IH. Local people supported Grey Ops as a small business to last long enough to catalyze new development. “Working with Indian Head and Charles County, something always positive comes out of the project we’re working on,” said Luginbill. “It might not always be as quick as we’d hope, but at the end of the day, there are so many people that care deeply about this community. I can’t say enough about the people who’ve helped us out, because there’s been a lot of people.”
According to Luginbill, Grey Ops bottled their first commercial batch of Silent Spring last week, and they want to eventually start bottling and packaging the product in the Town of Indian Head. “We’re not there quite yet, but that’s the impact you can see us having on the community,” he said.