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CSIRO, QinetiQ to study submarine CO2 capture technology

QinetiQ Australia and the CSIRO are working together under a defence Innovation Hub contract to develop an innovation atmospheric CO2 capture system for submarines, including the Collins and Attack class boats. Photo: Defence

The CSIRO in partnership with technical and engineering services company QinetiQ Australia has won a Defence Innovation Hub contract to develop an innovative new technology that is expected to deliver improvements to the operating environment for submariners. This will allow submarines to stay submerged longer while using less power and providing better conditions for sailors. If successful, this new technology could form part of the Australian Government’s Attack class Submarine Project SEA1000.

The contract will allow a prototype test demonstration of the technology to improve air quality inside submarines. This will be followed by a preliminary design for a full-scale prototype system for submarines.

A recent QinetiQ-CSIRO study showed that a class of porous materials called Metal-Organic Frameworks (MOFs) have extremely favourable properties for COremoval. MOFs have the largest internal surface area of any known substance, which can be optimised to capture gases such as CO2. This study demonstrated that the modelled performance of the porous materials will control the COconcentration in a submarine atmosphere at levels below that which can be achieved by many current technologies used in CO2 scrubber applications. Importantly, this can be achieved with a less complex system, lower energy demands and the reduction of hazardous by-products.

This technology represents an exciting step in achieving increased performance from the crew and better long-term health outcomes. It potentially also delivers a solution with lower power consumption versus existing CO2 scrubber systems and on a smaller physical footprint in a space-constrained environment.

CSIRO Project Leader Associate Professor Matthew Hill said, “Together, we’ll be testing whether MOFs can allow submarines to remain submerged longer. The more CO2 MOFs can capture and store, the longer a submarine can potentially remain underwater, undetected.”

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 submarine’s precious space and weight, as well as critical systems such as power.”

Current CO2 scrubbers 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. It could also be incorporated into existing submarines such as Australia’s current Collins class to extend their operational life and capabilities.

QinetiQ adds that it looks forward to exploring additional applications for this technology: an obvious potential application is manned space flight.

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