Did you know that humans have only explored 5 percent of the world’s oceans? That means we know almost nothing about the plants, animals, and other forms of life that exist below the waves. Exploring the deepest parts of the sea presents huge technical challenges, as researchers must be provided with continuous supplies of power and oxygen while miles below the surface. Now, a collaborative research team from the RIKEN Center for Sustainable Resource Science has developed a way to create natural batteries using hydrothermal vents commonly found on the ocean floor.
According to the NOAA, “hydrothermal vents are the result of seawater percolating down through fissures in the ocean crust in the vicinity of spreading centers or subduction zones (places on Earth where two tectonic plates move away or towards one another). The cold seawater is heated by hot magma and reemerges to form the vents. Seawater in hydrothermal vents may reach temperatures of over 340°C (700°F).”
Basically, it’s the ocean floor equivalent of the steam that shoots out of your tea pot when you leave it on the burner too long. And just like in your kitchen, this escaping team is hot and powerful.
Ryuhei Nakamura and his colleagues at the RIKEN Center are intent on capturing the energy of hydrothermal vents with a robotic system that works like a household battery. “Hydrothermal fluid from deep-sea vents is enriched with reduced or electron-rich ions, while seawater contains oxidized or electron-depleted ions. By placing one electrode in the hydrothermal fluid and another in the seawater nearby, the system creates a chemical gradient that produces an electric current,” explains Phys.org.
According to recently published results, the system worked well when tested, producing enough power to illuminate three LED lamps. “Nakamura is hopeful that the new technology will, in addition to benefiting deep-ocean science on a practical level, improve our understanding of how biological ecosystems exploit energy sources in such extreme environments,” reports Phys.org.
+ RIKEN Center for Sustainable Resource Science
Images via National Ocean Service, NOAA, WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim