TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Materials
OBJECTIVE: Prototype solid melanin-based material for additional application testing such as harvesting thermal energy for cold weather vehicle/clothing coating, EMP shielding, radiation shielding/countermeasure/prophylaxis, stored energy & energy release.
DESCRIPTION: Melanin is a biological polymer that possesses many desirable properties with clear Army applications in dampening radar signatures, EMP shielding, radiation protection, cold condition protection, energy storage/transduction and an alternative circuit material. Naturally produced melanin absorbs energy in many different forms (UV, visible light, ionizing radiation, electromagnetic), binds toxic materials (metals, oxiding agents, free radicals) and provides structural strength. Melanins are believed to be the primary protective mechanism for microorganisms that survive in harsh environments like Chernobyl, Fukushima and Antarctica. Experimental mice injected with melanin survive otherwise lethal doses of gamma irradiation. Melanin absorbs solar radiation and could be used to improve solar panels for energy harvesting. While this material represents extraordinary properties, exploitation for military applications is impossible without scale production of the naturally biologically produced version. Synthetic melanin is estimated to be 40-60% less efficient than naturally derived melanin. Research on industrial production of natural melanin will allow for future structural studies on why synthetic melanin lacks several properties. At the industrial scale, melanotic materials (either naturally or synthetically produced) could yield revolutionary benefits in the battlespace such as inexpensively EMP shielding sensitive equipment, protecting soldiers from the harmful effects of radiation, enhanced mountain and alpine operations, new types of batteries and possibly even explosives. Melanin based coatings can be clearly tied to Army modernization priorities for the Next generation combat vehicle (NGCV) through its EMP/EMR protective properties, Networks through EMP/EMR protective properties and as a possible circuit material and finally soldier lethality through its thermal absorption properties enhancing mountain/alpine operations.
PHASE I: Conduct a systematic study of naturally produced melanin’s ability to collect, store and release multiple forms of dispersed energy with an emphasis on efficient production. Evaluate shelf-life and safe storage conditions as well.
PHASE II: Develop scalable production methods while retaining desirable energy transduction properties. The goal is to develop prototype solid melanotic materials (sheets, bricks, powder, etc) that can be further evaluated in military applications. Use of a bioreactor, fermentation vessel or padreactor system at the industrial scale are encouraged. Phase III – Provide at least 1kg of solid, naturally derived, melanin. This will be used to seed additional development in multiple application areas from vehicle/fabric/ building material coatings, body armor and battery packs. As a material that absorbs a very wide range of energy, it may have many, many applications.
PHASE III: Possible new class of explosive. Melanotic materials are also useful for EMR/EMP shielding and thermal energy absorption.
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KEYWORDS: Multifunctional Materials, Synthetic Biology, Radiation Protection, EMP Shielding, Protective Coatings, Energy Harvesting