Material innovation

Print edition : October 23, 2009

J. Narayana Das, Director, NMRL.-BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

THE Naval Materials Research Laboratory (NMRL) is one of the oldest DRDO laboratories. It had its genesis in 1949 when the Government of India invited J.E. Keyston of the Royal Naval Scientific Services of the United Kingdom to advise it on establishing a scientific organisation to assist the Indian Navy.

Keyston recommended the setting up of two laboratories. Thus came up the Naval Chemical and Metallurgical Laboratory in Mumbai in 1953 and the Naval Physical and Oceanographic Laboratory in Kochi. G.E. Gale, who laid the foundation for naval research in India, set up the Mumbai laboratory in a renovated paint shop at the naval dockyard there. Renamed NMRL in 1995, it was relocated to Ambernath, 60 km from Mumbai, in 1997.

According to S.C. Sharma and C. Durgaprasad, Group Head and Deputy Group Head respectively, of the Technology Management Group, the NMRL pursues research in six areas: protective technologies, marine materials and technology, energy science and technology, marine biotechnology, polymers, and ceramics.

Dhirendra Kumar, Associate Director and head of the Protective Technologies Group, said the NMRL had developed paints that protect the structure of ships, both inside and outside. One of our achievements in recent years is the development of non-skid paint [for aircraft to land on the flight decks of ships safely]. We have also developed solvent-free anti-corrosion paints and fire-retardant intumescent paint, he said.

They can be used in electrical installations, high-rise buildings and rail coaches. The group is working on paints for underwater structures. We are working on smart coating, thermally stable organic coating and corrosion-sensing coatings, Dhirendra Kumar said.

The Energy Science and Technology Group has taken the science of fuel cells into industrial products. We are involved primarily in the development of cathodes, electrode components and fuel cells. Our achievement is the fuel cell-power driven electric car, DRDO-REVA, said J. Rangarajan, Associate Director of the division.

Our goal is self-sufficiency in all fuel cells, Rangarajan noted. The group has built a skid-mounted 15-KW generator based on phosphoric acid fuel cell technology, which can be a mobile source of electricity.

The Polymer Divisions success story is in developing anti-fouling paints for the underwater hull of ships, said B.C. Chakraborty, the divisions chief. Underwater structures of naval vessels attract barnacles that settle in the hull and burgeon into a thick mass.

This reduces the speed of vessels and affects the acoustic transmission of their sonars. So we developed technologies for coating which resist the settlement of barnacles, said J. Narayana Das, Director, NMRL.

The division has developed high-strength polymeric rubbing fenders to protect the hull from damage during docking. It is a substitute for teak wood fenders. High-strength polymer composites in combination with ceramics are also being developed as armour for vehicles against armour-piercing ammunition.

The Ceramics Division, headed by N.M. Gokhale, has developed toughened ceramics for use in armours. It has also come up with piezo composite materials that emit electrical charge on applied force. They are useful for mine-hunting sonars and flank arrays for submarines.

In the Marine Materials Department, said Vinay Deshmukh, a scientist, we develop different types of naval steels, their welding consumables, aluminium alloys, light-weight structures, composites and metal matrixes. Titanium welding is another of its strengths. The department is now focussing on developing high-strength steels for building ships and submarines.

The Marine Biotechnology Group, headed by Pradeep Kumar, has innovatively used bacteria to disperse oil spills. We have isolated a group of five bacteria. We did trials in the dockyard in Mumbai and the Eastern Naval Command in Visakhapatnam, in association with the Coast Guard, he said. The division has also developed fibre-optic biosensors.

The NMRL has ventured into what Narayana Das calls nationally relevant areas. It has developed a filter to provide arsenic-free drinking water. Arsenic poisoning in the eastern belt has affected an estimated 6.6 crore people.

The filters are affordable for families living below the poverty line. We have transferred the technology to non-governmental organisations, which are selling them at Rs.700 to Rs.800 a unit. They have already sold 16,000 units. For its arsenic removal technology, the NMRL was given the Defence Technology Spin-off award for 2007, said Narayana Das.

T.S. Subramanian

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