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SSC Pacific Technology Offers Free Energy From Sediments: Benthic Microbial Fuel Cell

SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific (SSC Pacific) has developed a Benthic Microbial Fuel Cell (BMFC) that enables persistent power production.  The knowledge of generating power using bacteria is not a new concept, but recent developments on better understanding how these organisms work, how to optimize their performance, and developing efficient deployment mechanisms with and without the usage of divers are under development at SSC Pacific.  The BMFC efforts are focused on integrating benthic microbial fuel cells with Navy seafloor ISR systems to increase their persistence in remote and inaccessible locations and available for other commercial applications.  These include targeted power generation applications, biosensor, bio-recovery, wastewater treatment, and education.

BMFC’s harness energy from nutrients in sea floor sediments and rely on the chemical reduction-oxidation reaction (redox) potential between the anaerobic sediment and the aerobic water column. However, this technology can also be used in a mobile system that floats through the water column.  The stationary BMFC technology uses an anode which is either buried in oxygen-depleted sediment or placed on top of the sediment in an oxygen-free chamber with a cathode placed in the water column above the anode.  Electrons are generated by the microbial breakdown of the nutrients in the sediment, which is passed from the anode to the cathode to generate electricity.

There are several form factors (all disclosed patents) that SSCPAC is pursuing. One is a 100-200 m linear array with anode material surrounding a buried cable. A second form-factor is a SeptiStrand linear array (30 m) that is deployed from a ship. In both cases, the cathodes are attached to electronics packages that provide power by trickle-charging batteries that in turn, directly power sensors.  The Septi-Strand BMFC was demonstrated and provided power to a SSC Pacific developed fluxgate magnetometer to detect overhead ship traffic.  There is a Riverine form factor that is a one meter cube (1m^3) that provides between 0.2W -0.5W of power to a pH meter (or similar low power sensor).  Latest BMFC form factors under development are unburied, and designed for deep sea systems. All of these are designed to be self-sustaining and enable power sources for modems, sensors, autonomous underwater vehicles, gliders, pop-up buoys, and more.  The benthic systems are at the point of demonstration (Summer-Fall 2017).  Altogether, three different form factors will be demonstrated.

Drs. Bart Chadwick and Y. Meriah Arias-Thode, have scientific visions of the SSC Pacific BMFC as enabling technologies for underwater sensors and unmanned vehicles as well as other collateral commercial applications.

For more information on licensing or collaboration opportunities for the SSC Pacific benthic microbial fuel cell, please contact SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific at ssc_pac_t2@navy.mil.

Region: 
Far West