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Naval Sea Systems Command Issues Submarines Life-Saving Lithium Hydroxide Curtains Developed by Battelle.

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Sea-Air-Space 2004

Booth #1800


The Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) recently finalized an $850,000 order of Battelle's lithium hydroxide curtains for the U.S. submarine force. By late 2004, every submarine in the fleet is expected to be outfitted with 400 of the new life-saving curtains. Developed and produced by Battelle, the lithium hydroxide curtain removes hazardous carbon dioxide that can accumulate in the atmosphere of a disabled submarine, improving the crewmembers' ability to survive while awaiting rescue.

The curtain is a breakthrough, cost-effective solution that employs Commercial-off-the-Shelf (COTS) technology to enhance the reaction rate of lithium hydroxide, the carbon dioxide absorbing chemical already in use by the Navy's submarine force. First used by submarine sailors prior to World War II, lithium hydroxide crystals react with and absorb carbon dioxide that builds up in an enclosed environment. Stored in canisters on board all submarines, the crystals are used in hopper fans if power is available or spread out on bunks or the deck in the event of an emergency or power failure. Due to a caustic dust produced by spreading the lithium hydroxide crystals, this method is only employed as a last resort.

In late 2000, experts at Battelle, a global leader in science and technology, began searching for a more effective solution. The new Battelle curtain eliminates this concern and provides a safer means for carbon dioxide absorption using the current equipment.

"Following the sinking of the Russian submarine Kursk, a number of Battelle researchers - many former submariners themselves - recognized a critical need," recalled James Worthington, a Project Manager in Battelle's Equipment Development group and one of the four inventors of the lithium hydroxide curtain. "We were looking to develop a device that could use the existing supply of lithium hydroxide crystals to absorb carbon dioxide, while operating with little or no power to better protect sailors from the harmful dust."

Drawing from their own experience, the Battelle team developed the concept for the curtain, designed a prototype and submitted a proposal to the Navy to fabricate and test various prototype curtains. Following Battelle's initial tests, the curtains were tested by the Naval Submarine Medical Research Laboratory (NSMRL) in Groton, Connecticut. Based upon the satisfactory test results, the Navy provided Battelle with additional funding to complete testing and refine the concept. In March 2003, the curtains were successfully employed in the Navy's submarine survival exercise, SURVIVEX 2003, which led to the decision to purchase and outfit all submarines with the new safety equipment.

"We were very supportive when Battelle came to us with the initial design for the lithium hydroxide curtain," said Michael Holmes, Deputy Assistant Program Manager for Deep Submergence Vehicle Support at NAVSEA, the Navy's largest system command. "It was an innovative, life-saving solution to a challenge that has concerned submariners for decades."

In March 2004, Battelle researchers - Cliff Dodson, Rod Jenkins, Mark Koenig and Jim Worthington - received a patent for their resourceful design that uses a polypropylene-fabric to contain lithium hydroxide crystals. Resembling an air mattress, the curtain is made of five sealed channels that enable passive absorption of carbon dioxide while preventing lithium hydroxide dust from escaping and irritating the submariners' lungs and skin. Unlike previous methods of dispersing the substance, each 7.5-foot long curtain is lightweight, easily stored in the limited space of a submarine, and most importantly requires no electrical power to operate. In addition, this safety enhancing solution is inexpensive, costing only $19 per curtain.

There is also another significant, rather surprising, advantage to the curtain. With temperatures at the bottom of the world's oceans hovering just above freezing, hypothermia can be a serious threat to sailors in a disabled submarine. The heat produced by the chemical reaction of lithium hydroxide crystals absorbing carbon dioxide, can rise upwards of 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and be harnessed by the curtain. By lacing several curtains together using grommets along the edges of the fabric, sailors can create an enclosure which can provide a heat source.

The lithium hydroxide curtain will be on display from April 6th - 8th during the Navy League's Sea-Air-Space 2004 Conference and Exhibition at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Hall A at booth #1800. For additional information, contact Katy Delaney at (614) 424-5544 or

About Battelle

Headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, Battelle has been a pioneer in technology research and development in numerous fields of science since its founding in 1929. Battelle, with the national labs that it manages or co-manages, oversees 16,000 staff members in 100 locations worldwide and conducts $2.7 billion in annual research and development. Battelle innovations include the development of the office copier machine (Xerox), pioneering work on the compact disc, and medical technology advancements. With more than 50 years' experience in military chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear defense programs, Battelle is a leader in using science and technology to detect hazards and protect people and facilities against weapons of mass destruction. Battelle's expertise covers all aspects of anti-terrorism defenses - from threat and vulnerability assessments, to testing of security systems, equipment, vaccines, and medical and community response; and training and evaluations.
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Publication:Business Wire
Date:Apr 6, 2004
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