The Centurion 3 survival system can self-heat when exposed to water
The energy industry has a strong health and safety culture and for good reason. There are a great many dangers facing anyone working on site. Most people do not worry about the dangers of their commute. But when you work on an oil rig and have to take a helicopter to work, you do.
If something goes wrong and a worker finds themselves in open water, especially in places such as the North Sea, they are in immediate danger owing to the cold. Cold shock happens when a person is suddenly immersed in water. It can occur in temperatures below 10°C (the North Sea ranges from around 2-8°C). Blood vessels constrict and blood rushes away from the surface of the body to maintain core temperature. The pressure placed on the heart can cause cardiac arrest, while instinctive deep breathing can force water into the lungs.
Cold shock happens instantly, making the first three minutes crucial to survival. If a person survives this they then have to deal with hypothermia. Hypothermia by itself can kill within an hour or two (the risk remains even after rescue), and the unconsciousness brought on early in hypothermia can lead to drowning much more quickly.
Even with an intact survival suit, rescue organisations consider it unlikely for a person to survive 30 minutes in open water; if the suit is leaking or incorrectly fitted it is unlikely the person will survive more than ten.
Dundee-based company Iron Ocean has developed a system to keep people warm in the open sea. Named Centurion 3, the suit is a three-layer outfit, to be worn under a survival suit, which generates heat when immersed in water. The system is made up of a base layer, a self-heating layer and a heat and slash resistant top layer.
The base layer is made from Iron Ocean’s Carfibex material with a weight of 220 grams per square metre. It is a blend of carbon fibre, cashmere and other fibres. The base layer makes it comfortable to wear under multiple layers of clothing and a survival suit, but when immersed it traps and retains a layer of water inside the fabric.
The second layer is a self-heating layer that contains Iron Ocean’s self-developed REACTA GEL technology, a blend of chemicals which undergo exothermic reactions. REACTA GEL Aqua is used in Centurion 3 as it activates on exposure to water. When water penetrates the micro-perforated outer layer the gel heats up almost instantly.
By working with the water-absorbent base layer, the Centurion 3 system traps a layer of warm water against the wearer’s body. The REACTA GEL will produce heat for around 20 minutes, and its effects, contained in the insulating layer of warm water, persist for over an hour.
The system is passive, so the wearer does not need to do anything to operate it, and does not need to be either conscious or alert. Apart from keeping the wearer’s body heat loss down, the heat also plays a part in reassuring the wearer, reducing stress.
The third layer is the protection layer. It is fire and slash resistant. This helps protect against cutting by a torn aircraft fuselage while escaping, and from burns – body fluids run towards a burn, putting additional strain on the body and increasing the risk of a heart attack.
The chemical gel used is non-toxic and non-caustic and does not produce harmful vapours. Since the average rescue at sea takes around 40 minutes, Centurion believes that the hour of heat its system provides could make the difference between death and survival.
Centurion is designed to be used only in risky situations – during a helicopter transit over water or wireline work hanging off the side of a rig – basically any time that a user would be wearing an immersion suit.
Iron Ocean is currently carrying out a fund-raising effort to commercialise the Centurion, which is expected to enter the market at a similar level to a survival suit.