A Look Inside Rebreather Scrubber Canisters, Part 2

Computer modeling allows you to see things that are invisible in real life.

The previous posting showed the complex thermal profiles generated in a rebreather canister found in closed-circuit underwater breathing apparatus during the CO2 absorption process. But heat generation is just part of the absorption process. Simulation allows you to see how the end product of CO2 absorption, calcium carbonate, gets deposited inside the canister.

To the right is calcite, a form of calcium carbonate. Divers never see crystals of calcite in the scrubber canister because sodalime granules are never completely converted to calcite. Typically, no more than 50% of the granules react completely with exhaled CO2.

The following images show the interior of a a scrubber canister as the sodalime granules begin reacting with exhaled CO2. When sodalime granules first begin to absorb CO2 the image becomes purple. With more CO2 the color turns reddish, and when all binding sites are filled with reacted CO2, the granule color becomes yellow.  

The more carbonate in a particular location in the granule bed, the more yellow the image.

The probability that an exothermic absorption reaction would occur is dependent on the granule temperature, the granule size, the number of granules and the number of sites available for reaction in each granule.

In the second image, CO2 absorption sites in the inlet to the canister were completely filled (thus showing yellow), and small pockets of absorption were extending up the canister walls.

When I saw the third computer-generated image, I was surprised. It showed that in the central portion of the absorbent bed, the moving thermal front seen in the previous post was leaving behind a calcited bed. However, sheets of calcium carbonate were forming on the outer surface of the canister, the coldest portion of the canister.

Initially that result was counter-intuitive. Then I realized that low temperature makes the odds very low that the first granule encountered would absorb CO2. All chemical reaction rates are temperature dependent, therefore exhaled CO2 would be very likely to proceed downstream to the next granule. There again the odds of being absorbed would be low so the CO2 molecule would continue downstream.

However, given enough opportunities, even low probability events eventually occur. That means that along the cold canister walls, carbonate begins to be deposited much further downstream than in the warmest, and most highly reactive portion of the bed.

Unfortunately, the low probability of CO2 absorption in cold granules means that CO2 hugging the cold canister walls is likely to pass completely through the canister, unabsorbed. Chances are also high that the same molecule would be shunted to a different portion of the canister on its second pass through the canister, and therefore would eventually be reabsorbed.

The following link is to a high definition video showing carbonate deposition in a cylindrical scrubber canister as the simulated diver plunges into icy water. For best effect go to full screen and 1080p mode.



Further details about the computer simulation involved in the production of these images and video can be found in the paper “Computer Modeling of the Kinetics of CO2 Absorption in Rebreather Scrubber Canisters”, in MTS/IEEE OCEANS 2001 Conference Proceedings, published by the Marine Technology Society; Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers; Oceanic Engineering Society (U.S.); IEEE Xplore (Online service).

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