CSIRO, QinetiQ to collaborate on submarine tech

Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, is collaborating technical and engineering services company QinetiQ to test an advanced crystal technology called metal organic frameworks (MOFs) for use in submarine manufacturing.

If successful, the technology will let submarines stay submerged longer while using less power and providing better conditions for sailors.

According to CSIRO, the new technology could form part of the Australian Government’s Future Submarines Program (SEA1000), which involves the design and construction in Adelaide of 12 highly advanced submarines with a range in excess of 33,000 kilometres and capable of operating independently for up to 80 days.

CSIRO Project Leader Associate Professor Matthew Hill explained that incorporating the new technology could help improve this range by capturing and storing the CO2 from the submarines’ atmosphere, allowing them to remain underwater for longer time, undetected.

“Together, we’ll be testing whether MOFs can allow submarines to remain submerged longer. MOFs have the largest internal surface area of any known substance, which can be optimised to capture gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2).”

QinetiQ Australia Managing Director Greg Barsby added “If proven, MOFs could give Australian submarines an edge: 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.”

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.

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.

The technology could also be incorporated into existing submarines such as Australia’s current Collins class to extend their operational life and capabilities.