Qinetiq, CSIRO to boost Australian Future Submarines’ CO2 capturing tech

Illustration: Royal Australian Navy photo of a Collins-class submarine

Royal Australian Navy’s Future Submarines could benefit from new carbon dioxide capturing technology which would allow the submarines to stay submerged for longer periods of time.

The Australian national science agency CSIRO is teaming up with engineering services company QinetiQ on a project that aims to provide better conditions for sailors through the use of advanced crystal technology called Metal-Organic Frameworks (MOFs).

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.

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

If successful, this new technology could form part to the Australian government’s Future Submarines Program (SEA1000), the largest and most complex military program ever undertaken in Australia. SEA1000 involves the design and construction in Adelaide of 12 submarines with a range in excess of 33,000 kilometres and capable of operating independently for up to 80 days.

“Together, we’ll be testing whether advanced materials known as Metal-Organic Frameworks (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),” CSIRO project leader associate professor Matthew Hill said.

“The more CO2 MOFs can capture and store, the longer a submarine can potentially remain underwater, undetected.”

“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,” QinetiQ Australia managing director Greg Barsby added.


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