DARPA’s initiative aims to redefine naval propulsion with magnetohydrodynamic technology
DARPA brings the elusive concept of magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) drive one step closer to reality. Promising a propulsion system with no moving parts, just magnets, and an electric current, the MHD drive could revolutionize undersea navigation.
Academic theory to practical application
Since the 1960s, magnetohydrodynamic drive technology has been a tantalizing concept for researchers. However, practical implementation has always been hampered by inefficiency and material challenges. The PUMP (Principles of Undersea Magnetohydrodynamic Pumps) program by DARPA is set to address these hurdles head-on.
The challenges overcome
The technology’s prior stumbling blocks included generating powerful enough magnetic fields and finding corrosion-resistant electrode materials. With recent breakthroughs in high magnetic field generation, the focus has now turned to solving the electrode materials problem.
Recent advances in the commercial fusion industry and the development of large-scale magnetic fields have raised the potential efficiency of a magnetohydrodynamic drive to an astonishing 90%. PUMP aims to capitalize on this by developing novel electrode materials suitable for MHD drives.
Tackling the hydrolysis problem
A critical issue with MHD drives is gas bubble development on the electrode surfaces, which reduces efficiency and leads to erosion. PUMP is addressing this problem using novel approaches, borrowing insights from the fuel cell and battery industries.
“We’re hoping to leverage insights into novel material coatings from the fuel cell and battery industries, since they deal with the same bubble generation problem,” Swithenbank said. “We’re looking for expertise across all fields covering hydrodynamics, electrochemistry, and magnetics to form teams to help us finally realize a militarily relevant scale magnetohydrodynamic drive.”
The future of maritime propulsion
With a 42-month plan in place, the PUMP program represents a concerted effort to bring MHD drives to the mainstream. By incorporating multiple potential approaches, DARPA is paving the way for this silent, efficient undersea propulsion technology.
DARPA’s PUMP program represent more than a mere advancement; they symbolize the onset of a quiet revolution in undersea propulsion. Should they prove successful, we might see a future where the marine vessels glide silently and efficiently.