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Lecture Notes on Rebreather Design Rebreathers are a form of SCUBA. They are the original form of SCUBA.

Diving has a long history which we cover elsewhere and there are several excellent reviews of the history of diving on the internet and in dive manuals. A very good review is the one found in the NOAA Dive Manual, it is not complete but this Manual is on the recommended book list, as is the USN Diving Manual. Rebreathers as we have been discussing have 2 primary operating types with multiple systems and sub-types available. Due to their complexity and the increased risk of using them, rebreather use has generally been been discouraged. We live in a litigation oriented society and decreasing risk and product liability has become an obsessive fact of life, and of doing business. Rebreathers have never really been a secret since the end of the 19th century. Their use in warfare and covert operations probably predates WW1. Rebreathers were the original gas mask types issued for gas warfare in WW1 and fire fighting equipment rebreathers predated those by more than a decade. Governments have discouraged dissemination of knowledge regarding rebreather advancements despite the fact that most of this knowledge is widely available although often only in foreign language sources. Pre-internet this restriction may have been possible.

An often discussed example is the closely held secret by the British government of Mixture, what is commonly called Nitrox today. This was considered a secret from the late 30s to the 60s by the Brits despite the fact that it was used by experimenters around 1900 and Drager developed commercial gear for it in 1911. US based diving club experimenters work with it following WW1. Firefighting and mine rescue rebreathers were designed before the 1920s to use an oxygen-air mixture, e.g. Nitrox. During the 1930s, the British SiebeGorman company even publicized their dive helmet rebreather system based on Draeger type techniques. The slide shows mid 1930s magazine articles covering this apparatus. The most basic principle in rebreathers is the concept of the breathing loop and the counterlung. We treat pendulum rebreathers separately, but the following is the basic concept. From the divers lungs upon exhalation the air travels via the airway and mouthpiece into a short tube then to a CO2 scrubber then into the counterlung or breathing bag. Upon inhalation the air travels back from the counterlung through the CO2 scrubber, through the tube and mouthpiece into the divers respiratory system. This to and fro movement was described as a pendulum movement and the term stuck. Part of the air being scrubbed twice passing to and fro through the scrubber with a portion not being scrubbed because it never exits the airway or breathing tube, this is the so called dead space that contributes to the possible excessive CO2 retention in this system. Oxygen or oxygenated breathing gas being added to replace the O2 used.

We will forego further discussion of this type other than to say it is simple, sturdy and does have its supporters. The ARO and CDBA are the best known of this type. We now review the basic principles of recirculating type rebreathers with dual counterlungs. We recognize that many excellent rebreathers including some currently used by the military are of a single counterlung type. A counterlung is necessary to rebreather systems since the exhaled air must travel to a compliant or flexible space (the breathing bag or bellows) so that it may travel around a circuit (loop) to be scrubbed and re-oxygenated and be returned to the diver with a following breath. The diver breathes from the breathing loop or circuit. Exhaled air travels from the divers lungs via the airway into a mouthpiece, through a one way exhalation valve into an exhalation hose where it travels to the exhalation side counter lung, then via a tube to a CO2 scrubber. It then passes to the inhalation side counterlung (also referred to the inhalation side of the loop), then to the inhalation hose to the mouthpiece via an inhalation one way valve, thus completing a circuit. The advantage of the system is that it slows the movement of breathing gas through the circuit, reduces the work of breathing and increases the efficiency of the scrubber by increasing the dwell time of gas in the scrubber, which also may be made larger in volume. It also eliminates additional dead space past the mouthpiece and provides places to trap water that may inadvertently enter the system before it reaches the scrubber.

O2 levels are normally monitored on the inhalation side of the loop and O2 is replaced by one of several methods. Modern systems monitor O2 levels using electronic sensors that that feed signal into a digital system that display information on a small screen. These units may control the opening and closing of solenoid actuated valves to add O2 to the breathing loop. Since O2 use for an individual diver at a fixed rate of effort, is fairly predictable, some or most of the O2 may be replaced by a constant addition valve. In addition a diver will monitor the display screen and may add O2 manually to the breathing loop. Some systems offer multiple redundant O2 addition as well as monitoring systems to prevent hypoxia. Some systems monitor CO2 concentration to prevent excessive CO2 accumulation. These systems have not proven as useful as O2 monitoring but do provide an avenue for advancement. Monitoring End Expiratory CO2 concentration may provide the safest system to prevent hypercapnia as CO2 may accumulate in the diver even when loop CO2 may still be acceptable. These topics will be discussed at length as we progress. Suggested readings in basic respiratory physiology are provided and remember a rapid respiratory rate may not necessarily reflect an effective exchange of gases.

Rebreathers are often classified into types that describe the breathing gas as well as the method by which O2 or breathing gas (BG) is replaced and whether the system is monitored or controlled electronically or mechanically. We are primarily interested in fully closed systems but semi-closed systems are very useful and have been used for years. Advanced mechanically controlled semiclosed rebreathers (SCRs) are used by the worlds navies for ordinance disposal and de-mining operations due to concerns that electronic systems might be detected by advanced mine sensors which would blow up killing the anti-mine diver. A glossary is available for you due to the large number acronyms and terms to which we refer. The simplest rebreather is the pure O2 CCR. These were in use prior to the electronic monitoring era. Since only O2 is used as a breathing gas, the loop when properly prepared and flushed will only have O2 in it. No monitoring of pO2 is required. As long as the gas is uncontaminated and CO2 is absorbed the breathing gas remains adequate. When O2 rebreathers are used by decompressing divers, they flush the loop at frequent intervals so as to eliminate the diluent gas that they are outgassing during decompression. Depth is limited in O2 CCRs by oxygen toxicity and a chart of O2 exposure limits is in the handouts and in the Dive Reference List. Also read the discussion of O2 toxicity in the Dive Manual as well as in the handouts. Acute neurological O2 toxicity results in a seizure which may be severe and frequently results in LOC and disorientation. Loss of mouthpiece can result in the diver drowning. FFMs are encouraged for use in CCRs for that reason.

The next level of complexity in rebreather types or technology can be said to be the basic SCR. Mixture or Nitrox usually of a high O2% is the BG. This is added to the loop by a constant addition valve (CMF-Valve) at a rate calculated to replace the O2 consumed by the diver at the anticipated work rate of the planned for dive activity. The loop is semiclosed since it periodically must discharge or belch a quantity of excess BG via an overflow or over-pressure valve system so that it can maintain an equilibrium state of breathable gas in the system. As awkward of an approach as this may seem (at first glance), these systems actually work very well if dived within their performance limits. SCRs of the CMF types were and are safely dived unmonitored. There is no real reason for us to use unmonitored SCRs in scientific or recreational diving today. These CMF-SCR systems maintain a breathable mix in the loop by adding a mixture at a fixed rate. Therefore the actual pO2 of breathing gas usually has less O2 than the supply gas mixture. The addition of O2 monitoring reveals a wide fluctuation of the pO2 in the loop gas during the course of the dive. They are usually safe to use at a depth greater than the MOD of the supply gas would indicate, although this is probably unwise for the modern civilian diver who should know their pO2 at all times. SCRs do not usually have a separate O2 addition system although some specialty and military systems are dual in nature. Dual feed devices allow the use of the unit as an SCR for a deep portion of the dive and then to use as a pure O2 CCR for decompression or for a stealthy phase of the dive for the military

SCRs have been used extensively, especially in the days prior to reliable electronic loop monitoring. SCRs were the standard emergency bailout for deep Heliox divers on oil rigs and industrial projects. Many excellent SCR systems were deployed with SSA divers prior to the current reclaim systems coming on line. Many of the early CCRs were dual CCR/SCR systems. With the addition of reliable electronic monitoring a semiclosed unit that has a separate O2 addition can be converted to a manually controlled or diver controlled CCR. These are sometimes referred to as mCCRs. There are many variants of SCR designs especially the latest mechanically controlled units that add O2 gas keyed to respiratory rate and minute volume and discharge loop gas correspondingly. These units will be discussed in detail later in the class, but here are the basics for now. Respiratory rate and minute volume are closely related to the actual metabolic use of O2 and to CO2 production. These units use a mechanical bellows as a counterlung and a mechanical system to control valves for addition and discharge of BG. Some use small intermediate bottles or pressure vessels called dosing chambers to provide more careful regulation of added gas. Some use depth compensating systems to regulate gas discharge thereby improving efficiency. Many have dual O2 addition systems and have relatively low pO2 excursions. Electronic pO2 monitoring is optional. These units are used by military EOD divers. Manually controlled electronically monitored CCRs are the next step in complexity and monitor the pO2 in the breathing loop but do not control solenoid addition valves. The pO2 is

monitored by the diver who then manually adds O2 gas to the loop so as to maintain a safe mixture. Better systems, such as the KISS RB and Abyss also have a constant addition system that supplies most of replacement O2 so that the diver needs to add O2 with less frequency. When properly adjusted they replace the complete O2 needs of the diver at some predetermined low level of activity. The diver need only add O2 when the metabolic requirements of higher physical activity consume the O2 in the loop. These provide a safety margin and a hedge against hypoxia if LOC occurs. The primary reason why some choose to use a manually controlled eCCR is due to a lack of trust in solenoid controlled valves. These have failed in the open position causing oxygen toxicity. Many computer units or digital control units have had unpredictable failure modes that have locked up a CCR. Manually controlled electronically monitored CCRs with a carefully regulated constant addition valve may actually have a slight safety advantage over full electronic control, but the main reason for their continued popularity is lower cost and complexity. Their safety record may have more to do with the experience and knowledge level of the divers who choose them rather than the units themselves. They foster situational awareness and frequent monitoring to a greater degree than fully electronic units. Their users are often more aware of their units details and intricacies than is possible with some of the fully electronic units on the market.

We are now going to describe the electronically controlled units that are currently the preoccupation of many CCR divers. Some expedition grade CCRs of this type have built in backup and bailout modes that allow the unit to operate as a manually controlled CCR if solenoids or driver systems fail. Some have a constant addition system which augments or backs up the solenoid system. Some can default to a CMF type SCR in case of full electronic failure. Actually all CCRs can be operated at least for a short while in a SCR mode by adding gas and flushing the loop manually or by expelling gas from around the mouthpiece. This has actually saved more than one life until a better bailout could be managed. Open circuit bailout has allowed divers to clear their heads, signal their buddies and to avoid drowning. The basic electronically controlled CCR uses 3 or more O2 sensors to monitor the pO2 of the breathing loop from which the diver breathes. These units display the pO2 of the BG and send a voltage to a dedicated computer control system that evaluates the pO2 signals from the sensors usually via voting logic so that it may produce a control signal that closes a relay and sends a current to a solenoid that actuates and opens a valve admitting O2 to the breathing loop. Sounds simple doesnt it. The concept is simple, the diver breathes from the loop whose pO2 is monitored electronically and O2 gas is added via a solenoid controlled valve to maintain that content or pO2 within a narrow range determined by set points. The CO2 is removed via a scrubber as in other rebreathers. An ADV (auto-diluent-valve) adds diluent gas on descent so as to maintain loop volume, breathing comfort and buoyancy as with many other RBs.

Open circuit SCUBA wastes expensive helium. SCRs conserve it better and CCRs conserve it best! Advanced systems of monitoring have been proposed including monitoring of the loop, the scrubber and of the divers respiratory and heart rates and it is generally accepted that the electronic controllers will become a type of black box for evaluation of diving accidents as well as hedge against liability. These units will silently record and log aspects of the dive which designers will then purportedly use to improve the safety and performance of future design. Topics for discussion next class will be: 1. O2 monitoring and CO2 monitoring. 2. Scrubber designs and Scrubber temperature monitoring. 3. Scrubber material and its chemistry. 4. Water traps and water ingress and egress. 5. Work of breathing and respiratory terminology. 6. Loop decay and bailout concepts and advantages. 7. What are Failure modes? Avoid terms like bulletproof. 8. Advantages and disadvantages of CCR compared with open circuit and SSA systems. Design in safety? Review all listed material prior to next meeting. Be able to draw out the basic designs and principles of the CCR types and of the CMF-SCR.