Open Water Power has developed a novel aluminum-water platform technology for undersea power generation. Invented and patented by our founders at MIT, the electrochemical system provides safe, scalable & non-toxic energy storage with extremely high energy density, promising a 10x improvement in the endurance of Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs) and sensors.
Open Water’s technology harnesses the significant electrochemical energy inherent in aluminum metal. While a variety of mechanical and materials-based hurdles have traditionally made this energy difficult to access, our proprietary and patent-pending technology, developed at MIT, overcomes these issues to deliver a power system with 10x the energy density of competing lithium-ion systems. The figure below compares the energy density of our technology to that of other energy storage technologies typically found in underwater applications.
In addition to improved energy densities, our aluminum fuel cell technology is inherently safer and more stable than many other battery and fuel cell chemistries. Prior to activation our systems are chemically inert, with no risk of explosion and a virtually unlimited shelf life. Once our systems are activated with water, their safety profile is similar to that of household alkaline batteries. The Naval Surface Warfare Center at Carderock recently conducted preliminary safety testing of some of our cells and found them to be inert over a range of abusive conditions that would typically cause lithium-ion and even silver-zinc batteries to fail dangerously. The public-release report of their testing is available here; a summary of results can be found on Slide #12.
Current Development Status
The Open Water Al-H2O power system is still in development: our Technology Readiness Level is TRL 6 on a cell level and TRL 4 on a system level. Specifically, our cells currently operate on the benchtop using lab-grade pumps, electronics, and monitoring equipment, but with real seawater, realistic temperatures, flow rates and operationally relevant power levels. We have demonstrated cell-level energy densities in excess of 3.0 kWh/L and sustained power densities of up to 35 W/L, with higher power available in bursts. We have run large-scale cells for over a week and smaller-scale low-power cells for months. At a recent conference at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) we debuted our first public demo, which allowed users to interact with running cells by varying the load and monitoring the cells’ performance.
Open Water holds a prime contract with the US Department of Defense to develop power systems for man-portable UUVs, and we are also developing our first commercial product which will be available by the end of 2016. We welcome additional government and corporate-partner projects. Our technology’s performance makes it a great fit for UUVs, ocean sensors and manned submersibles of all sizes. We are not a good fit for extremely high sustained power systems like torpedoes, nor are we a good fit, because of our water-based chemistry, for high temperature applications like downhole drilling. But if your application requires long-duration, moderate power underwater, our chemistry’s performance is the best in class.
From both an operational cost and a strategic point of view, current UUV use is limited by the need for manned surface and submarine support vessels for deployment, operation & retrieval. A significant increase in the range of UUVs would allow many operations to be conducted by UUVs launched directly from shore, without the need for a support vessel and its crew. An example from the oil & natural gas industry is depicted below, illustrating how significant of an impact Open Water’s technology could have on such operations.
Oil & Gas Operations in the Gulf of Mexico: