Independent Benthic Microbial Fuel Cells Powering Sensors and Acoustic Communications with the MARS Underwater Observatory

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  • Most oceanographic instruments on the seafloor have no connections with the surface and therefore have to run on batteries and store data until recovery. To demonstrate a developing technology, sensors and acoustic modems were powered with energy harvested from the seafloor, and data were relayed acoustically in near–real time to the Monterey Accelerated Research System (MARS) observatory in Monterey Bay, California, and to surface research vessels. MARS is a cabled observatory in deep water (~890 m) at the edge of Monterey Canyon. An acoustic modem was attached to the MARS node and configured to send out commands to, and relay data received from, remote modems. Two benthic microbial fuel cells (BMFCs) positioned approximately 0.5 km away from MARS supplied power to the remote modems and sensors. At their peak performance, these BMFCs produced continuous power densities of ~35 mW m⁻² (footprint area). The modems utilized in this study contained an integrated power management platform (PMP) designed to manage and store the electrical energy generated by each BMFC and to record BMFC performance parameters and sensor data on an hourly basis. Temperature and either oxygen or conductivity sensors were chosen because of their common use and environmental relevance. Acoustically transmitted data records show that the BMFCs renewed energy stores and that the oceanographic sensors measured dissolved oxygen, temperature, and conductivity reliably throughout the operational life of each BMFC system (~6 months). These systems remained in place for more than 12 months.
  • Keywords: Observational techniques and algorithms, Surface observations, Ship observations, Applications, Field experiments, Remote sensing, Instrumentation/sensors, Renewable energy
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  • Schrader, P. S., Reimers, C. E., Girguis, P., Delaney, J., Doolan, C., Wolf, M., & Green, D. (2016). Independent Benthic Microbial Fuel Cells Powering Sensors and Acoustic Communications with the MARS Underwater Observatory. Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology, 33(3), 607-617. doi:10.1175/JTECH-D-15-0102.1
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  • 33
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  • 3
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  • This work was funded by the Office of Naval Research under Grant N000140910199 to C.R.
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