Grey Havoc

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SecNav Posits Drone Ships Fueled by Sediment


At a breakfast meeting with DC-based defense reporters today, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus (now clearly not in contention to be SecDef) sketched a future force of unmanned ships pulling power from the sea floor.

Office of Naval Research just did a patent on making energy with a combination of seawater and organic material at the bottom of the ocean. If this can work in large quantities, you can see an unmanned vehicle out there simply burrowing down into the bottom of the ocean trying to recharge. … It’s unmanned systems [like that] that offer tremendous versatility and tremendous reach.

The process gets a little more scientific than I’m capable of explaining comfortably, so I’ll let a 2010 news report do it for me. We also invite DT readers who are spooled up on this to explain as well…

These fuel cells convert naturally occurring fuels and oxidants in the marine environment into electricity making them a viable power source for long-term operation of autonomous underwater unmanned vehicles, in-water sensors, and devices used for surveillance and monitoring the ocean environment.

“Think of it as a battery that runs on mud,” ONR Program Manager Dr. Linda Chrisey said. “They are sustainable, environmentally friendly and don’t involve hazardous reactants like a regular battery might because they use the natural carbon in the marine environment. For example, we are working on a 4-foot long autonomous underwater vehicle that will settle on the seafloor and recharge its batteries using this fuel cell approach. We are already able to power many types of sensors using microbial fuel cells.”

While so far the experimentation on this has been essentially charging batteries for buoys or radio monitors, Mabus’ vision conjures up images of robotic ships controlling the world of The Matrix. Imagine unmanned nuclear subs that can derive power from the sea floor on their own?…Clearly some down sides to this kind of robotic warfare.

– Christian


http://defensetech.org/2011/04/27/secnav-posits-drone-ships-fueled-by-sediment/
 

sferrin

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That's basically what earthworms do. Reminds me of the DARPA program to figure out how to have robotic unmanned vehicles fuel themselves by eating biomass. Second Variety anybody?
 

RyanC

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Take this and combine it with Sonobuoys and UAVs.

SOSUS-X Line Deployment/Maintenance:

1.) Someone on SIXTH FLT's flagship goes onto their tactical control computer and lays out a sonobuoy line, etc.

2.) This sonobuoy line command is sent to a fairly large orbiting UAV. It flies to the sonobuoy line position and begins to deploy the sonobuoys.

3.) Each sonobuoy contains a retractable sea anchor in the bottom and a long extendible whip antenna that can reach up fairly close to the surface -- they're also powered by this suspended biomass fuel cell posited earlier. Operational life of the sonobuoys can be about a week or so.

4.) The Large Orbiting UAV slowly orbits the Sonobuoy line and acts as a transmitter/relay station to pick up the signals and data from the Sonobuoys and transmit them to either a ground station or a warship equipped with the right networking equipment.

5.) You could then prosecute targets found with this SOSUS-X system with other orbiting UAVs which carry about 4 x lightweight torpedoes.
 

Lauge

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sferrin said:
Reminds me of the DARPA program to figure out how to have robotic unmanned vehicles fuel themselves by eating biomass. Second Variety anybody?


RUN FOR YOUR LIVES......

Regards & all,

Thomas L. Nielsen
Luxembourg
 

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Michel Van

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... A HUNGRY TERMINATOR IS COMMING ;D

on Second Variety
My guess is they use methane from the sea floor mud and burn it in a Fuelcell
but this look more like a crossover of a Fuelcell with a sewage treatment plant...
 

GTX

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Michel Van said:
... A HUNGRY TERMINATOR IS COMMING ;D

Sorry, can't resist...I suddenly have this image of a Terminator going into McDonald's to 'fuel up' ...and that being it's undoing :D

Regards,

Greg
 

CaseyKnight

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I guess this means we'll have weapons that can eat what they kill
 

Dragon029

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Seeing as that's the argument for ethical hunting - would it mean that unleashing those robots upon the enemy and then allowing them to eat the bodies would be ethical? ;D
 

ninjamode

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That would be the perfect strategy for consuming energy and resources - you let them kill, then eat to get more energy and kill again. How lovely hah. It would be a bit difficult to stop them killing and eating and killing and eating afterwards, though. They should make little remote controls for that :)

The end is coming... Where tf is Arnold?
 

Nik

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Sorry, one potential scenario had me in giggles...


Extract from Court Martial following heavy grounding of vessel with this technology: '... field-expedient refueling. However, the recommended procedure does not conform to good ship-handling practice as suitable mud banks exhibit excessive suction...'
===


Disclaimer: My modest experience of mud-banks was digging rag-worm bait. This apparently harmless interlude required a technique akin to snake wrangling as 'king rags' exceeded 50 cm in length, and one end was equipped with powerful nippers. To add to fun, the ends look identical until the head locks on and delivers a painful, dirty wound. You must lunge, grab within an inch of both ends and try not to belly-flop into the stinking blue-black wallow you've just dug...


Sorry, must dash-- Boss cat has just returned, dripping wet (*), from his midnight patrol, and announced that he wants supper soonest. If I delay, he'll clamber behind this BrowserPC and start removing USB cables...


(*) Yes, the remnant of Hurricane Irene has crossed the Atlantic and dumped on UK as first full-blown Autumnal gale of the season...
 

Grey Havoc

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Lauge said:
sferrin said:
Reminds me of the DARPA program to figure out how to have robotic unmanned vehicles fuel themselves by eating biomass. Second Variety anybody?

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=biomass-fueled-robot

RUN FOR YOUR LIVES......

Regards & all,

Thomas L. Nielsen
Luxembourg

You may want to avert your eyes away now then: http://tech.slashdot.org/story/12/03/21/150210/researchers-create-chemically-powered-robotic-jellyfish
 

Grey Havoc

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A related article: The Power Challenge For Small Unmanned Vehicle (Ares blog)

One radical solution is under discussion at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL): turning ocean sediment into fuel for unmanned vehicles and unattended sensors. The idea is to create a microbial fuel cell that generates electricity using nothing more than organic material and oxygen that are readily available in the ocean. In theory, this could provide organic power for individual vehicles or power an unattended sea-bed “charging station” for unmanned undersea vehicles.

“Microorganisms have figured out how to acquire energy in this environment to satisfy their energy needs,” says Leonard Tender, a research chemist in the Center for Bio-Molecular Science and Engineering at the NRL. “What we have figured out is how to tap into the microbial processes to extrapolate enough electricity to power oceanographic sensors.”

The fuel cell works by harvesting the metabolic activity of microbial organisms that live in sediment—essentially mud on the ocean floor or at the bottom of estuaries—and then transferring that energy to a fuel cell, making it available to power the electronics on an unmanned system or sensor. This essentially creates a battery fueled by mud.

Turning ocean sediment into power is more than just a novelty for the Navy. Tender describes the need to power thousands of marine sensors as one of the “vexing problems” for the military. The idea is that instead of using sensors with batteries that run down, systems would be equipped with microbial fuel cells that could recharge themselves without human intervention.

A fuel cell that can be autonomously recharged opens the door to more extensive use of sensors and unmanned systems at sea, allowing them to operate autonomously over long periods of time, according to Tender. Such microbial fuel cells could also someday be used to power underwater vehicles that recharge themselves while at sea.

All this is easier said than done, however. Tender has proved the microbial fuel cell concept can work in small-scale demonstration in the lab, and some limited tests in the field, but it's “very, very hard,” he says.

Getting the setup right requires implanting an electrode in just the right place below the surface sediment, which makes the lab's simulated environment critical to testing out the microbial fuel cell. “To get that arrangement is a real technological challenge,” says Tender.

But if it works, naval researchers will have created something that will please military officials and civilians alike: an environmentally conscious power source for unmanned systems and sensors.
 

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