The CSIRO has joined forces with technical and engineering services company QinetiQ on a project that aims to allow submarines to stay submerged longer while using less power and providing better conditions for sailors.
If successful, the research into advanced crystal materials known as Metal-Organic Frameworks (MOFs) could form part to the Commonwealth's Future Submarines Program (Sea 1000).
Such work could potentially serve to improve the range of the non-nuclear Sea 1000 submarines, currently expected to be in excess of 33,000 kilometres over a period of about 80 days.
CSIRO Project Leader Associate Professor Matthew Hill said MOFs have the largest internal surface area of any known substance, which can be optimised to capture gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2).
“The more CO2 MOFs can capture and store, the longer a submarine can potentially remain underwater, undetected.”
QinetiQ Australia MD Greg Barsby said MOFs could give Australian submarines a performance advantage that lets them dive longer while placing less demand on a submarines precious space and weight, as well as critical systems such as power.
“This project plays to both partners’ strengths, our decades of experience and expertise in submarine operations and atmospheres; plus CSIRO’s unmatched and patented ability to make MOFs in large volumes, cheaply and with great precision.”
As submarines are an enclosed space, CO2 expelled by the crews’ breathing and other chemical processes builds up and can eventually become toxic. Carbon dioxide scrubbers avoid that, by removing CO2 from a submarine’s atmosphere and storing it for later release.
Current CO2 scrubbers though take up a large amount of the limited space, weight and power available in submarines. They can also generate corrosive by-products, which have both health and sustainment implications in the close confines of a submarine.
According to Qinetiq, a MOFs based system would use a smaller amount of space, place less demands on a sub’s systems and wouldn’t rely on damaging gases.
Barsby said it could also be incorporated into existing submarines such as Australia’s current Collins class to extend their operational life and capabilities.