College of Engineering

Professors create technology to prevent lead shot pollution at shooting ranges

Three UMass Dartmouth scientists have created a special fabric and barrier curtain system to prevent lead contamination of the environment from shotgun shells at shooting ranges.

The technology, developed by Dr. Yong K. Kim of the Materials and Textiles Department, along with adjunct Professor Armand Lewis and Professor Emeritus Alton Wilson, has been licensed by the UMass Commercial Ventures and Intellectual Property (CVIP) to Hope Global Inc., a leading textile technology manufacturer in Cumberland, Rhode Island. Under the licensing agreement, a portion of the product sales will be returned to the university as a royalty.

CVIP manages commercialization of technologies developed at all five campuses. Dr. William Rosenberg, Executive Director stated that "this is further evidence of the role the University plays in the SouthCoast region and other parts of the state in fostering the creation and growth of Massachusetts companies."

CVIP's mission is to commercialize the University's intellectual property for the benefit of both the University and society. CVIP evaluates new University technologies, seeks and manages patents and other protections, identifies potential industrial partners, and negotiates licensing agreements. The revenues generated from technology commercialization are used for the continued financial support of faculty research activities. The office also supports the economic development initiatives of the University through company formation and job creation, and thereby helps maintain the Commonwealth's position as a leading developer of cutting-edge technologies.

The fabric, trade named PELLET-XXT, has proven that it can withstand the impact from lead pellets fired from shotguns at a distance of 80 yards from the shooter. The curtains are installed at the shooting range to prevent lead pellets from entering environmentally sensitive areas. When the lead shot pellets hit the fabric, they lose all or most of their kinetic energy and drop to the ground near the fabric. The spent shot can then be collected on a mat fabric, sand or gravel bed so the lead can be recovered and recycled with overall minimal environmental impact on the surrounding areas.

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, through its Lead Shot Initiative, has been working with the Gun Owners' Action League, the Massachusetts Sportsmen's Council, the National Shooting Sports Foundation and other concerned sportsmen and sportswomen to help clubs implement better lead shot management practices. Because many of the state's ranges are located in environmentally sensitive areas, a risk is posed to nearby wildlife, surface and ground water and natural habitat.

The project evolved from first studying the lead pellet ballistic impact behavior of various fabric materials and then designing a complete curtain system. The work culminated in the installation of a lead shot curtain system at the Standish Sportsmen's Association trap and skeet shooting club in East Bridgewater.

The position of the barrier structures will always be unique to the particular shooting range being "fitted" for a system. This range requires a series of  8 1/2 foot wide by 34-foot long fabric curtains mounted onto a pole and cable assembly. They are placed at a top height of 50 feet and drape down to 16 feet above the ground.

Kim said that the fabrics were made using the warp-knit process. Polyester-based yarns were chosen as the fiber materials because of their durability and affordability. "Our fabric is special because of its unique structure," said Kim. "The material has good resistance to sunlight and other weather conditions. The fabric is intricately woven and does not run. It has held up well. Other curtains have to be replaced every six months to one year. Ours will last at least two years and probably five."

According to DEP Spokesperson Joseph Ferson, there are approximately 150 outdoor shooting ranges with lead shot present in Massachusetts. A half dozen gun clubs have employed a curtain system similar to the one developed by UMass Dartmouth. He described the curtain set-up as "one tool in an overall approach that is needed" to make recovery and clean up easier, mitigate pollution and help gun clubs protect the environment. "There is no one simple solution to this problem. In any kind of maintenance program, there has to be an on-going commitment for it to be effective," he said.

Rick Patterson, director of facilities development division at the National Shooting Sports Foundation in Newton, CT said his organization's National Association of Shooting Ranges is at the forefront of developing management practices to ensure lead at shooting ranges isn't impacting the environment. The group worked closely with the DEP, gun club and UMass Dartmouth on this project.

"Hunters and sportsmen/women are the first and best conservationists. A clean and healthy ecosystem is an absolute prerequisite for our outdoor values. We want to make sure ranges have the tools they need to effectively manage their property, even on the small scale represented by the shooting range footprint," Patterson said.  "Environmental management is a global challenge and we have been working closely with other shooting sports associations throughout the world to make sure the best information is being shared."

After a great deal of experimentation, the Standish Sportsmen's Association gun club conceived, developed and implemented its own "Draw-Drape" mounting system. The arrangement has been working well and has received an excellent response from club members, according to Association President John Fabrowski.

The next step, pending receipt of funding, is the design of a double curtain lead pellet capture system.  According to Lewis, that project would involve placing an open-net, knitted mesh fabric in front of the barrier fabric in a dual fabric configuration. The front fabric would allow the lead pellets to pass through the mesh fabric, absorbing much of their kinetic energy. The pellets would then strike the back barrier to dissipate the rest of their energy. These spent lead bullets fall by gravity through the space between the two curtains and into a capture bin or trough placed at the base of the two curtains.

The SSA club is working on a full-scale double curtain lead pellet capture system test installation. "It's a sound idea to stop the pellets and collect and recycle them at the same time," Fabrowski said. "We saw that there is an environmental need throughout the country to address this problem and without hesitation, our organization volunteered to join the experiment."

Lewis continues to monitor the project and found the experience to date rewarding. "Having had much experience as a researcher in an industrial laboratory (before joining the academic ranks in 1990), it is the ultimate in job satisfaction to have the fruits of your labor result in a successful product. While we are only in the early stages of the commercial development of this product, we now must rely on Hope Global to carry on."

Paul Berlam, director of engineering and quality at Hope Global, noted that this market is new to the company but "has potential." Of the partnership with UMass Dartmouth, Berlam said, "It has been a productive and interesting collaboration."

Wilson lent his expertise as a skeet and trap shooter for more than 30 years. Noting that he had visited 30 shooting facilities in several states, he said, "I've seen how much shooting takes place at these ranges and I've seen the need to capture and recycle lead shot as well. I felt at home not only for testing and evaluation, but to improve a competitive shooting game that I love so that it will last forever for others without affecting our environment."

DEP is a partner agency in the STrategic Envirotechnology Partnership (STEP) program, which sponsored the research since 2002.

Students Pankaj Sarda (MS-Textile Chemistry), Mayur Kumbhanni (MS-Textile Technology) and Liang Feng (MS-Mechanical Engineering) provided manual assembly help.

Author: "John Hoey"
Date: 16-7-2007

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