UK engineers fight landmines with fire

Engineers from Imperial College London have developed a new way of detecting landmines in peaty soil, using smouldering fire to uncover their position.

landmines

Known as O-Revealer, the prototype device uses an electric power source and a heating coil that is inserted into the top layer of peaty ground. It then slowly heats the peat to 500 degrees Celsius, igniting it and causing a smouldering, flameless fire that reveals the position of landmines below.

Testing in the lab under simulated conditions found the device was able to partially unearth both plastic and metal dummy landmines. The team discovered that under dry windy conditions, the O-Revealer could potentially set off plastic SB-33 mines. However, metal PROM-1 mines would not explode regardless of the soil and weather conditions. The work is published in the journal Experimental Thermal and Fluid Science.

Minefield clearance requires innovation and investment

“The insidious threat of landmines and their impact on people is well documented around the world,” said lead author Dr Guillermo Rein, from Imperial’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. “However, the technical and safety challenges in removing these minefields are huge. Even a rich and technologically advanced country such as the UK faces challenges.”

“The British government, for example, had a legal responsibility to remove landmines from the Falkland Islands by 2009, but due to the slow rate and high costs of conventional mine removal techniques they’ve had to request a ten-year extension to their programme.”

landmines

As part of the study, the team mapped areas of the world where landmines remained in peaty ground and would most benefit from the technology. These included the Falklands where, according to Imperial, only about 20 per cent of the 25,000 landmines planted during the 1982 conflict have been removed. Other areas where the technology could be applied include Vietnam, Burma, Laos, Uganda, Zimbabwe and former Yugoslavia.

The technology is now set to be trialled in the field, initially at a military test site. Later, the team hopes to trial the O-Revealer in the Falklands, where the SB-33 was widely deployed.