MAPC Demonstrates Hydrothermal Vent Energy Harvesting

In September 2013, MAPC and its partners at the APL-UW installed MAPC’s new hydrothermoelectric®   energy harvesting system onto a deep-ocean hydrothermal vent. The vent from which this first of its kind generator produces electric power is a “white smoker,” a type of hydrothermal vent with very hot transparent fluids, and which forms soft unstable chimneys that do not become colonized with the macrobiotic life for which their “black smoker” counterparts are known. MAPC’s hydrothermoelectric®  test system spent a year on the seafloor 250 miles off the coast of Oregon, at the ASHES vent field in the caldera of the Axial Volcano, at a depth of just under one mile. Sensor data retrieved from the generator showed it to have successfully generated electric power, and upon retrieval, the system had survived its one year exposure to this very harsh environment without significant corrosion.

This new technology can provide energy on the seabed for scientific instruments and ocean observatories.  It can also be used to recharge autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) on the seafloor, potentially eliminating the need for manned “motherships” to perform this function for vehicles exploring the ocean floor. MAPC’s new clean energy technology will provide these future deep-ocean operations with a low-cost alternative to the very costly cables on the seabed currently used to deliver power from land across hundreds of miles of seafloor habitat. 

Recent development efforts are to show the new technology can be used to harness geothermal energy as well as that from hydrothermal vents. If successful, it will dramatically expand the areas in which this electric power is available.

Relevant Links:

InterRidge Vents Database

National Science Foundation Ocean Observatory Initiative

About Thermoelectric Power

About Hydrothermal Vents

About AUVs