1948 technology could help today's submariners breathe easier


June 18, 2010

A new system based on old technology may allow for chemical-free CO2-scrubbing onboard submarines

A new system based on old technology may allow for chemical-free CO2-scrubbing onboard submarines

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Submarine crews could be breathing much healthier air thanks to miniscule devices based on 62 year-old technology. Currently, carbon dioxide is removed from the air in submarines through a reaction with chemicals such as calcium hydroxide. Chemical engineers from England’s University of Bath are collaborating with mechanical engineers from Duke University in the US, to develop a chemical-free filtration system. It utilizes seawater and tiny folded wire mesh rings known as Dixon rings.

It has been known for a long time that sea water absorbs CO2. The researchers, however, are faced with designing a system that could fit within the close confines of a submarine, or other undersea habitat. That’s where the Dixon rings come in. Only 3mm across, the rings’ mesh construction provides extra surface area for the absorption of CO2.

The system consists of a column packed with Dixon rings. Seawater and “used” air are pumped through the column (and rings) in counter-current directions. This chaotic interaction results in the air being scrubbed of its CO2, which is then discharged into the sea.

According to the Bath scientists, not only will this technology do away with the need for chemicals, but it will also allow crews to stay undersea for longer periods.

The study is funded by a three-year £380,000 (US$563,109) grant from the US Office of Naval Research.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

Not entirely accurate. First, the process of using calcium hydroxide is a secondary system in case the primary method fails and there is no method of ventilation available. Submarines can extend an mast that pulls in fresh air and changes out the air in the entire sub in a short period of time. It\'s noisy and not the preferred method, hence the primary method is done with a CO2 \"scrubber\". It has a compound in it called monoehtanolamine (commonly called amine) that absorbs CO2 when cold and releases it when hot. The machinery that uses this has two towers in it. One cold, one heated. The heated tower that releases the CO2 is picked up by a compressor that discharges it overboard. Effective method that has been used for a long time. The down side to it is that you smell it as soon as you walk onboard the boat. The saltwater method would provide a better method if it can absorb at the same rate or better as the scrubbers. They also have rings inside them that increase surface area for absorption and release. They are called raschig rings and have been around for a long time.


Whaaaaaa with OUR planet\'s oceans saturating up with CO2, and all these jerkoff\'s with their hand out for the money, to develop more and more idiotic measures and counter measures, and the fact that we are facing extinction within 100 years...

People should really start to go and close down their military and start working hard on the fact that relationships are the real wealth and everything else is just bullshit.

Mr Stiffy

Don\'t nuclear submarines use electrolysis to get oxygen from seawater?

Facebook User

Amine has been used for quite a long time to absorb CO2. It works, albeit the smell does linger on your clothing when you return to port. A few who have posted comments here fail to realize that plants use CO and CO2 to survive, and through a process known as photo-synthesis, generate O2 (Oxygen) needed for human survival. That said, although CO2 is a greenhouse gas, it can be regulated, and is necessary for our survival. Everything that comes from the eartrh ultimately returns to the earth in one form or another. It is up to us as a species to determine how we affect this process. Mother Nature does a great job on her own, and sometimes we humans help the process, and at other times we hurt it. Not a greenpeace gig... However, simply my humble opinion.

Kevin LaPlant

A lot of people believe that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, but this may not be true at all. Roy W. Spencer, a climatologist, has written a book called The Great Global Warming Blunder: How Mother Nature Fooled the World\'s Top Climate Scientists that talks about this.

Facebook User

I posted a link to an interview with Roy Spencer, but it was deleted by the moderators. I guess they aren\'t fond of sharing information.

Facebook User

This is so easy to solve without anything so exotic. they can just pull air out of the water using a vacuum degasser like the type used for ultrasounds work. Water is exposed to a vacuum and the water fizzes like a shaken soda bottle being opened with the gasses escaping the water. Why bother extracting the CO2 then just vent out out.

John Sokol
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