On Future Propulsion: The Sea Will Provide

There is a short, but fascinating article in Popular Science about new idea in propulsion for submarine and other maritime uses.

A Navy-funded thermal engine bobbing off the coast of Hawaii is accomplishing a rare feat — it produces more energy than it consumes. Though it’s not quite a perpetual motion machine, it could provide scientists or the Navy with a perpetual presence on the seas. The engine is attached to an unmanned underwater vessel, called SOLO-TREC (for Sounding Oceanographic Lagrangian Observer — Thermal RECharging), and uses the energy of the ocean to derive a practically limitless energy supply.

SOLO-TREC is outfitted with a series of tubes full of waxy phase-change materials. As the float encounters warm temperatures near the ocean’s surface, the materials expand; when it dives and the waters grow cooler, the materials contract. The expansion and contraction pressurizes oil, which drives a hydraulic motor. The motor generates electricity and recharges the batteries, which power a pump. The pump can change the float’s buoyancy, allowing it to move up and down the water column.

This has potential for all sorts of systems, and if it can economically scaled up to where it could replace a Nuke plant, then we’ve freed ourselves of all sorts of restraints. Additionally, there could be autonomous, self-powered acoustic arrays for passive detection which could maneuver over large areas as the tactical or strategic situation shifted.

More here, here, and here.

Kyle Grindley, an engineer in the Instrument Development Group at Scripps Oceanography, helped design the SOLO-TREC autonomous underwater vehicle seen here.


3 Responses to “On Future Propulsion: The Sea Will Provide”

  1. 1 SCOTT the BADGER
    April 15, 2010 at 22:07

    That could be, as you note, the basis of a mobile SOSUS line. We shall see where this takes us.

  2. 2 SCOTT the BADGER
    April 16, 2010 at 03:07

    I can see where this has wide ranging potential of electrical production. I just hope it doesn’t take a vessel the size of the Jarhe Viking to be practical. It could mean a great deal of energy indepndence for coastal areas, and could help 3rd World countries grow economically, by allowing them to keep thier energy money at home. YAY SCRIPPS! HUZZAH, NASA! LIKE,GROOVY, DUDE, USC, and BRAVO ZULU USN NRL!

    • April 16, 2010 at 13:12

      Yup. That’s what I mean by being scalable. Almost all electrical sysrems are, but whether it’s pratical at that larger scale remains to be seen.

      Still, it’s a neat first step and I can see, like you, all sorts of potential for this in the years to come.

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