Bulb Eater® Saves Thousands for Los Alamos Lab
The Los Alamos National Laboratory this month expanded the use of a fluorescent bulb-crushing machine to handle waste bulbs lab-wide. It's a move that could save tens of thousands of dollars in waste disposal fees and will prevent mercury from escaping into the environment.
The device is called a Bulb Eater. It attaches to the top of a 55-gallon drum and works like a large food processor. Workers load fluorescent bulbs into a tube, which then sucks them through a propeller-like set of blades, pulverizing the bulbs.
"What you would see inside the drum is a fine glass powder and a couple of beat-up end caps. That's it," said Jim Stanton, a contractor working on the project for the Maintenance and Site Services (MSS) Division.
Fluorescent bulbs contain small amounts of mercury vapor and must be labeled, boxed, and disposed as a type of hazardous waste.
"Every box is a compliance point," Stanton said. "In a landfill, if you get enough fluorescent bulbs you eventually get that mercury leaking into the environment."
But the Bulb Eater captures the vapor in a three-stage filtering process and neutralizes it by converting the vapor to mercuric sulfide, which is non-hazardous.
Stanton estimates that the device can reduce waste volumes by more than 20 times. One cardboard disposal box holds 30 bulbs, but a drum can hold more than 600 crushed bulbs.
The device has been in use at the CMR building and was used to dispose of bulbs from the SM-43 Administration Building. Starting last week, nearly every spent bulb removed from most Lab buildings will meet its fate in a Bulb Eater.
"This has been a big pollution-prevention issue," Stanton said. "It's good to see this really getting going."
Stanton also credited colleagues in the Waste and Environmental Services, Environmental Protection, Maintenance and Site Services, and Industrial Hygiene and Safety divisions for getting the project under way.