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Plasma Decontamination of Biological Warfare Agents


TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Materials, Chem Bio Defense


Develop a hand-held plasma decontamination system for biological warfare agents.


The ability to decontaminate mission critical equipment is necessary to minimize exposure risks and maintain operations after a biological agent attack. Plasma is currently used in industrial cleaning applications1 and technology has been shown to rapidly decontaminate a wide range of biological contaminants, with little damage to the asset.2,3 Plasma sources have also been used to effectively decontaminate and sterilize medical equipment and have been shown to be a promising method for disinfection of surfaces in hospital settings.4 To limit the spread of contamination and restore combat operations, there is an essential need for a man-portable system which rapidly decontaminates items, such as sensitive equipment, etc., so that a warfighter's mission can continue. The hand-held system will decontaminate a broad spectrum of biological agents (spores, bacteria, and virus) from a variety of equipment within minutes while not compromising the integrity or function of the equipment, allowing it return to normal operations without limitations. Performance threshold for the plasma decontamination system is 99.9 percent reduction of biological agents with an objective of 99.9999 percent inactivation of detectable pathogens. Examples of gear to decontaminate include, but are not limited to, helmets, tactical vests, and sensitive equipment such as radios and night-vision goggles. For the purposes of this topic, sensitive equipment will be modeled on a military-style, multi-channeled, hand-held radio that the vendor will use (and acquire) to verify and validate performance of the decontamination system.The plasma sources should be able to operate in the open atmosphere, and be able to decontaminate the model system within 10 minutes. The final system must be man-portable (< 40 lbs), include an internal rechargeable battery to provide a minimum of 1-hour of operation, and be compatible for operating on an external power source. Consideration will be given for affordable approaches that minimize Size, Weight, and Power (SWaP).Consideration also will be given to system designs that minimize or eliminate consumables.


Demonstrate proof-of-principle by constructing a "breadboard" prototype and demonstrate that the device achieves the necessary conditions to decontaminate the modeled system within 10 minutes. Demonstrate the effectiveness of the system on two representative test coupons: a coated metal surface and a polymer surface such as polycarbonate.Show effectiveness using surrogates for a range of biological agents: vegetative bacteria (e.g. Francisella philomiragia), enveloped virus (e.g. vaccinia) and endospore (e.g. Bacillus thuringiensi). From proof-of-principle experiments, demonstrate through design analysis that the required performance parameters can be achieved during Phase II.


Refine the design and construct a "brass-board" prototype that provides the form, fit and function of the targeted end-product. Demonstrate the decontamination effectiveness against a qualified Bacillus anthracis spore surrogate on the model sensitive item (i.e. military-style, multi-channeled, hand-held radio) within above description. Validate that total remaining biological agent (surrogate) is at or below performance objectives.Demonstrate and validate that the conditions of the process to decontaminate do not have a deleterious impact on the immediate or long-term function of the modeled sensitive equipment item. The prototype will include management of effluents to ensure agents or harmful chemicals are contained during the decontamination process.Estimate and outline the logistic requirements of the proposed process.Prior to the demonstration on the model sensitive equipment item, confirm performance on an expanded set of coupon testing, large panel, and/or complex surfaces for testing. Calculate extraction efficiency thru demonstrating proper titers and controls. Ensure surrogate agent titers adequately simulate environmental organic load as part of the test. Demonstrate reproducibility of tittered samples.

Provide military users prototype systems for field-testing. Obtain user feedback based on test -amp; evaluation to further refine the design.


PHASE III:Refine the design to meet Size, Weight, and Power requirements. Demonstrate system integration with existing decontamination platforms.Provide military users with prototype systems for field-testing.Obtain user feedback based on test & evaluation to further refine the design.

PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS:This technology will be valuable to both military personnel and first responders for on-site decontamination.

KEYWORDS: decontamination; plasma; biological warfare agent; hazardous materials


1. What is Plasma Cleaning Used For?

2. Bizzigotti, et. al. Handbook of Chemical and Biological Warfare Agent Decontamination St Albans, ILM Publications, 2012.

3. Herrmann, et. al. Decontamination of Chemical and Biological Warfare Agents Using an Atmospheric Pressure Plasma Jet, Physics of Plasmas, 1999, Volume 6, Number 5, 2284-2289.

4. Thiyagarajan, et al. Atmospheric Pressure Resistive Barrier Cold Plasma for Biological Decontamination, IEEE Transactions on Plasma Science, April 2005.

5. McCullers, J. A, et al. Use of atmospheric non-thermal plasma as a disinfectant for objects contaminated with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, AJIC, 2009, vol 37, 9, 729-733.

6. Sakudo, et. al. Disinfection and Sterilization using Plasma Technology: Fundamentals and Future Perspectives for Biological Applications Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2019, 20, 5216.

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