Lockheed Martin, Australian manufacturer Omni Tanker and the University of NSW (UNSW) will collaborate to develop and commercialise world-first composite tank technologies, supported by a grant from the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre (AMGC).
The $1.4 million co-funded project was announced as part of AMGC’s Commercialisation Fund launch. The two new technologies will solve the challenges of using composites to transport and store liquid hydrogen in applications on ground, in the air, underwater and in space.
Combining nano-engineering technology developed by UNSW with Omni Tanker’s patented OmniBIND technology, two new operational scale propellant tanks will be developed to store cryogenic liquid fuels for commercial and civil satellite programs.
This includes a “Type IV” fluoropolymer-lined carbon fibre composite tank and a “Type V” linerless carbon fibre composite tank, both suitable for high pressures, extreme cryogenic temperatures required for liquid hydrogen and oxygen, hydrogen peroxide and hydrazine.
“Lockheed Martin invests millions of dollars every year into R&D programs with our Australian industry and research partners to solve real challenges facing our global supply chains,” Lockheed Martin Australia head of Industrial Development Christopher Hess said.
“We have had a long-standing research collaboration with UNSW and Omni Tanker and we are grateful for the support of the AMGC as we now look to commercialise these cutting edge, Australian-developed composite tank technologies for a number of Lockheed Martin and NASA applications.”
Developing composite tanks that are lightweight, cost-effective and resistant to microcracking and permeation represents a unique technological solution with significant space applications, Lockheed Martin Space Australia and New Zealand regional director David Ball said.
“As the world increasingly looks to hydrogen for emission-free energy, containing and transporting it in a safe, cost-effective and economic manner remains extremely challenging,” Ball said.
“The space industry is particularly interested in the development of linerless composite tanks for their weight efficiency and durability, which represent the cutting edge of composite pressure vessel manufacturing.
“These advances have the potential to support the growth of Australia’s sovereign space capabilities, strengthen exports to space-faring allies and partner nations, and make an important technological contribution to future space missions particularly in on-orbit storage, launch and deep space exploration,” he said.
“Creating a lightweight vessel for transporting liquid hydrogen at minus 253 degrees Celsius is no simple thing – whether you’re moving it along a highway or to outer space – but it’s Australian know-how that is making it possible,” AMGC managing director Dr Jens Goennemann said.
“That’s why AMGC is supporting Omni Tanker and its collaborative partners to engineer and manufacture a solution to this problem and offer it globally.”
The project builds on a recent invention by the research team at UNSW led by Professor Chun Wang, which enables carbon fibre composites to withstand liquid hydrogen temperatures without matrix cracks. This is a challenge that has, up until now, prevented mass-market adoption of these materials for such applications.
“This new technology is the result of an outstanding collaboration and partnership between UNSW, Lockheed Martin and Omni Tanker over the past four years,” Professor Wang said.
“It is wonderful seeing our research achievement is now moving closer towards commercial success and generating social and economic impact in Australia and beyond.”
Omni Tanker, with vast experience in developing and commercialising strong, lightweight composite transport vessels, has the knowledge and technology to apply these recent research innovations, Omni Tanker CEO Daniel Rodgers said.
“This next phase in our collaboration with Lockheed Martin and UNSW is a landmark development that sees Omni Tanker’s seamless thermoplastic lining technology enter the aerospace sector,” Rodgers said.
“The OmniBIND technology has made inroads to revolutionising the safe and efficient movement of challenging liquids within the chemical transport sector. Now the growing need to decarbonise the energy industry and the re-usable low-earth-orbit satellite market have the potential to drive major utilisation for these new technologies.”
“We are excited to work with Lockheed Martin and UNSW on this ground-breaking project, which leverages our patented technology. It is also a credit to the talented Australian engineering team that we have assembled at Omni Tanker,” said Omni Tanker’s chief technical officer Dr Luke Djukic said.