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Inventing A Better Battery For Unmanned Underwater Vehicles

By TJ McCueMonday, October 6, 2014
3D Design

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In September 2013, a torpedo-shaped unmanned underwater vehicle set an important record: The longest trip for a battery-powered undersea craft. OpenWater Power sent this vehicle from Boston Harbor over 300 miles and more than four days in a journey that almost reached New York City.

While I spent a couple of hours with OpenWater Power at their Greentown Labs location (a very cool accelerator program where we did a meetup and visited a number of other startups, too), their website explains it best:

“OpenWater power has developed a suite of aluminum-based power systems with transformative potential in undersea industries. Invented and patented by our founders at MIT, the electrochemical systems provide quiet, scalable, non-toxic energy storage with significantly higher demonstrated energy densities than traditional anaerobic energy storage devices including both Li-ion and Li-thionyl chloride batteries.”

Bryan Mahoney, chief financial officer for the company, gives a bit more insight, in the video below, how the issue is that current fuel sources do not have a lot of energy “density,” which in this case translates directly into range or distance for an autonomous vehicle. OpenWater Power with their new technology is giving that density a 10x boost. As he explains, Autodesk’s Simulation CFD (computational fluid dynamics) program makes these important developments possible. The project is being funded by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Rapid Reaction Technology Office and the US Navy’s Naval Air Systems Command.

The OpenWater Power team is working on two types of battery designs:

1)  Vented Design— Aluminum-seawater version that uses seawater to operate and must be vented. It is capable of storing as much as 10 times the energy of a lithium ion battery of similar size.

2)  Sealed Design — Aluminum-permanganate version that is expected to store up to 3 to 5 times as much energy as the Li-ion batteries of the same level.

  • The battery design is meant to be used in the underwater equipment and drones
  • Non-toxic, scalable, and quiet and higher densities compared to traditional batteries.
  • The battery uses aluminum alloy as an anode and a platinum-coated titanium as the cathode. This allows the new battery’s chemistry to be less volatile than Li-ion.

The world’s oceans present many opportunities for discovery and exploration, but manned voyages can only go so far, and unmanned vehicles provide a good alternative to make these voyages. But the problem with these vehicles is that they lack the energy to make it to more than a few hundred miles before running out of power.

The team at OpenWater Power is definitely not going to run out of the entrepreneurial and inventive power needed to take this technology to the next level for the U.S. Navy and others. I’m sure that other battery-dependent applications are keeping a close watch on this young, up-and-coming company.

Sidenotes: If you are interested in reading more about Greentown Labs, you can visit their site to learn about their mission to develop energy solutions that can change the world. They are located just a few miles outside of Boston in Somerville, a growing technology area.

If you want more examples of how others are using Simulation CFD, check out these case studies.

Follow along at! #3DRV

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