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SAILORS BREATHE EASIER WITH CSIRO CRYSTALS

15-03-2018
by 
in 
CSIRO’s Dr Xavier Mulet and QinetiQ Australia Managing Director Greg Barsby

CSIRO, has joined forces with technical and engineering services company QinetiQ on a ground breaking project aimed at improving carbon scrubbing in underwater vessels. 

If successful, the program would be a tripple-score, letting submarines stay submerged longer while using less power and providing better conditions for sailors.

The new technology, called metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), could form part to the Australian government’s Future Submarines Program (SEA 1000), the largest and most complex military program ever undertaken in Australia.

SEA 1000 involves the design and construction of 12 highly advanced 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)," said CSIRO Project Leader Associate Professor Matthew Hill. 

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

QinetiQ Australia MD Greg Barsby said MOFs could give Australian submarines 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.

“We’re focused on creating real capability gains for the Australian Defence Forces. This project plays to both partners’ strengths, our decades of experience and expertise in submarine operations and atmospheres; plus CSIRO’s unmatched and patented ability to make MOFs in large volumes, cheaply and with great precision,” he said. 

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 MOF-based system would use a smaller amount of space, place less demands on a sub’s systems and wouldn’t rely on damaging gasses.

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