Helium is one of the non-renewable resources that is currently undergoing supply shortage therefore the need to conserve it has become an important priority for the US Navy. Aside from being used to inflate balloons and produce squeaky voices, helium is an essential gas needed to operate MRI machines, Large Hadron Colliders and for commercial diving purposes. Currently, standard diving suits use Fly-Away Mixed Gas System or FMGS which discharges oxygen and helium in the process thus wasting a significant amount of valuable resource.
The Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City or NSWC PC scientists announced that they have made modifications in the helmet and rebreather in order to address the conservation of gas being exhaled out into the sea by divers during underwater operations. The engineered prototype is part of the US Navy’s Initial Response Diving (IRD) project that aims to make prolonged deep dives possible with the least amount of resource used.
Dr. John Camperman of the NSWC PC stated, “This new, semi-closed system was conceived to drastically reduce helium requirements and where possible we also incorporated proven technology in the system in order to speed transition to operators.”
“The new system modifies the current helmet and rebreather. Prototype analysis and testing have shown that drastic reduction in helium consumption is possible. Testing of the new prototype system indicates that the full range of FMGS diving is supportable within Navy life support requirements, and that several life support characteristics are improved, including extended emergency come-home gas duration.”, he added.
This development can improve diver safety, efficiency and cost reduction. The lesser the helium need there is, the lesser vessel space the suit will require. Hence, smaller vessels can be utilized to provide faster object recovery and rescue operations. The primary objective of the IRD project is to achieve a significant advancement to enable divers to reach targets 600 feet deep in a span of only 36 hours. This will greatly impact rescue missions for survivors and in terms of life support for divers, it will provide extended window to resurface during emergency situations.