Magic Bullets: When the U.S. Army Looked Into Biodegradable Ammunition

The traditional function of bullets is killing, but the Army once banked on a new design that could have the opposite effect. In 2017, the U.S. Army sought proposals for biodegradable ammunition to replace existing rounds used in training — including grenades and tank rounds. Training rounds require hundreds of years or more to biodegrade, and some of the rounds have the potential to corrode and pollute nearby soil and water. The Department of Defense was looking for ammunition that could contain seeds that would ultimately break down and produce food for animals. The eye-catching proposal seemed far-fetched, but Army researchers at the time had already succeeded in embedding seeds into biodegradable material to flower months later. So far, nothing seems to have come of the Army’s plans. Apparently, the challenge is to find the right material to insert the seeds into, perhaps bamboo fibers or soy-based materials. There are still hurdles to overcome – such as cost, performance and compatibility with existing equipment – but the Army believes that sustainability has become a priority.