Researchers Honored for Submarine Air Quality System

The U.S. Navy may deploy the nanotechnology-based system in its submarine fleet, according to the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, which participated in the project.

Researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and colleagues on May 3 received the 2012 Federal Laboratory Consortium Interagency Partnership Award for developing a system to clean the air aboard submarines. Called Self Assembled Monolayers on Mesoporous Supports, or SAMMS, the technology is "based on a new class of hybrid nanoporous materials that can rapidly capture contaminants such as carbon dioxide, mercury, or arsenic directly from the atmosphere or liquid environments," according to the lab's May 3 news release announcing the prize. It says SAMMS can provide a controlled release of the carbon dioxide using a gentle application of heat or vacuum.

The award is presented annually to employees from at least two different federal agencies or laboratories who have "collaboratively accomplished outstanding work in transferring a technology." In this case, PNNL, the U.S. Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division's Ship Systems Engineering Station, and the U.S. Naval Sea Systems Command cooperated on the project, which sought an entirely new way to clean the air inside the confined space of a submarine. (Carderock is the Navy's center of excellence for ship systems, specializing in environmental quality system, ship design, and related disciplines.)

"This is a new application of a technology that was previously developed by PNNL to remove heavy metal contamination from ground and surface waters found at many DOE waste sites," said PNNL Material Scientist Glen Fryxell, one of the PNNL inventors of the technology.

The SAMMS materials can absorb large quantities of liquid and airborne contaminants without creating secondary waste and are disposable as non-hazardous waste, according to the release, which described the current Navy air-cleaning technology as "a bulky, heavy, corrosive and malodorous liquid process that produces a significant organic solvent waste stream." It has been used for more than 50 years by the Navy and the navies of many other countries, according to PNNL.

"The technology could open doors to other large-scale or small-scale air quality treatments," including in underwater rebreather SCUBA gear, on space-based vehicles, or in spacesuit air cleaning systems, Fryxell said.

The award was presented at the FLC National Meeting in Pittsburgh, Pa.

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