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Seafloor fuel cells. Seafloor sensors require power to operate. For intermittent sensing, conventional or permanently installed ocean-bottom sensors can be powered by an acquisition vessel, producing platform or shore-based installation. However, continuous seafloor monitoring – such as needed for military or scientific use – requires constant power.
A novel way to produce power on the seafloor has been discovered. It’s essentially an underwater fuel cell that runs on seawater and subsea sediment. It can generate small amounts of electricity indefinitely. Called OSCAR, for Ocean Sediment Carbon Aerobic Reactor, the cell exploits a natural voltage difference created by a pair of chemical reactions occurring on the seabed. Plankton release energy by using oxygen to break down organic matter in seawater or sediment. Unlike seawater, there is little or no oxygen within sediment, so plankton therein use different chemical reactions. These two reactions create a voltage difference between the seawater and sediment a few centimeters beneath the seafloor.
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