Engineers at QinetiQ are working on a world-first initiative to improve the endurance of submarines by reducing the amount of time they spend on the surface expelling contaminants and drawing in oxygen.
While it is vital to replenish oxygen supplies, this process, known as snorting, increases a submarine’s vulnerability, the more time it spends surfaced. Currently, oxygen generators create oxygen from the electrolysis of water, but eventually the submarine still has to come up for air.
QinetiQ is working with the CSIRO in testing a new way of removing carbon dioxide (CO₂) from a sub’s atmosphere while submerged. By preventing carbon dioxide from building up to dangerous levels a submarine can remain submerged, stealthy and ultimately safer, for longer.
The CO₂ scrubbers in current use take up a lot of space and weight and suck up too much energy, according to the CSIRO. They also release corrosive gases that eventually damage a submarine’s system. So, Australian engineers and scientists are working together to come up with a better way to remove carbon dioxide from a sub’s atmosphere using Metal Organic Frameworks (MOFs).
“[These] have the largest internal surface of any known substance, are extremely porous, and can be enhanced to capture specific gases,” CSIRO said.
“We’re now testing MOFs to find one perfect for operating in a sub. We think MOFs could allow a sub to stay underwater longer by removing even more carbon dioxide and improving the quality of the atmosphere.
“It could also take up far less room and place a lot less strain on the sub’s critical energy systems. All this while providing a simpler system that requires less maintenance.”
If successful, QinetiQ and CSIRO are aiming to get world-first MOFs-based CO₂ scrubbers onto Australia’s existing Collins class submarines to extend their operational life and capabilities. Their plan also includes having them installed on Australia’s 12 next gen subs being built in the SEA1000 Future Submarines Program.
Image: HMAS Rankin, a Collins class submarine. Source: CSIRO (photo: James R. Evans)