Fraunhofer ICT researchers have developed a new semi-automated robotic disposal system to rid the North and Baltic Seas of war-time ammunition.
According to the researchers, millions of tons of old ordnance and poison gas grenades lie at the bottom of the North and the Baltic Sea dating right back to the World War I.
These old weapons are corroding and releasing the toxic substances they contain. Their disposal remains hazardous, time-consuming and expensive.
Ridding the world’s oceans and seas of such explosives has become all the more paramount with new shipping channels being excavated, pipelines built, and submarine cables from wind parks laid to shore.
Old mines, torpedoes, and bombs often get displaced due to strong currents and trawling activities. This has caused divers to manually clear dangerous munition from shipping channels that were once considered free of mines.
Recovering large bombs is almost impossible, says the Fraunhofer team. A change in pressure is often enough to cause them to explode.
The only solution to date has been to relocate them to known munition areas or detonate them on the spot. This however disperses some of the toxic explosive throughout a large volume of water, threatening our fragile marine eco-system.
Now Fraunhofer ICT, along with the University of Leipzig and several industrial partners, has come up with a safer solution in the form of RoBEMM, a robotic underwater salvage and disposal system.
Explosive ordnance disposal company Heinrich Hirdes EOD Services GmbH is coordinating the project, while the automation and connection of all subcomponents is conducted by automatic Klein GmbH.
Fraunhofer ICT’s core area of expertise in the project is technical safety and the characterization of hazardous substances.
Its task was to develop a method to handle explosives in which every step minimizes the inevitable residual risk of spontaneous explosion. This includes ordnance handling, disassembly, destruction of explosives, and residue treatment.
Desensitizing explosives with water and subsequent fragmentation is a crucial operation. The metal cases are subsequently rinsed and the explosives thermally treated, leaving only scrap metal to be brought ashore, reports the researchers.
This apart, the researchers have also determined that the impact sensitivity of explosives may even increase over time. To avoid any spontaneous detonation, they ensure that the ordnance are handled with the greatest caution.
Image credits and content: PA/DailyRecord/Fraunhofer ICT