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UK funds hydrogen-powered cargo submarine to torpedo maritime emissions by 2050

A hydrogen-powered cargo-carrying submarine has received taxpayer funding as part of the UK government’s goal to slash maritime emissions by 2050.

UK-based Oceanways is to use the money to investigate the feasibility of building and testing a prototype automated cargo submarine powered entirely on green hydrogen.

Boat-building boffins will also be looking to gain an edge in understanding the technical and economic challenges before building a prototype capable of carrying a cargo payload equivalent to a standard 20ft (TEU) shipping container.

Once it hits the water, the vessel is earmarked to run trials between Glasgow and Belfast with the added benefit of hoovering up microplastics along the way.

The designers have been quick to point out that it is not competing with the traditional container shipping industry that forms the backbone of world trade. Instead, its business model is to service short point-to-point routes with “fast, zero-emission delivery” with crossings that are less likely to be affected by adverse weather.

As part of its submission for the funding, the firm explained that the innovations of this project are on “underwater fuel cell and propulsion systems, cargo submarine design, hardware and software design for artificial intelligence algorithms to command, control and navigate, and novel business models around low-cost fleet ownership, maintenance and operations.”

In a press statement, Oceanways founder and chief exec, Dhruv Boruah, said that when it comes to the Department for Transport’s mission to decarbonise shipping, it was important to “radically rethink to create innovative solutions.”

The announcement of the cash boost came as the government named 55 winning projects that will share the £23m taxpayer-funded R&D competition.

The use of hydrogen as an alternative to heavy maritime fuels is linked to a number of projects in the competition including one from ACUA Ocean, which has designed a long-endurance liquid hydrogen-powered uncrewed surface vessel (H-USV).

Tests have shown that ACUA Ocean’s vessels have a seagoing endurance of 70 days at five knots and a top speed of 20 knots all while cutting operational CO2 emissions by 99.3 per cent.

Another project earmarked for public funding is a maritime charging vessel that can plug in and suck up power from an offshore wind farm and then sail to another electrically powered or hybrid-driven propulsion vessel effectively creating a mobile charging station.

The whole area of maritime innovation is definitely beginning to gain its sea legs with projects surfacing around the world. In July, the autonomous boat Saildrone Surveyor successfully crossed the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco to Hawaii while mapping the seabed.

But it’s not all plain sailing. Earlier, IBM’s AI-crewed Mayflower – which set off from the UK for the US – was forced to turn back after just three days. ®


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