back to article 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- …

  1. ComputerSays_noAbsolutelyNo
    Holmes

    Box ticking

    I may well be wrong, but this proposal sounds like a box ticking exercise.

    Which keyword do we need to include to acheive the most subsidies?

    A green-hydrogen powered submarine that removes micro-plastic from the oceans and delivers cargo.

    Well done sir, well done indeed.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Box ticking

      And it's researching AI for another big fashionable tick.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Box ticking

        But the project is doomed from the start because it doesn't mention the cloud or blockchain.

        I suppose we should be grateful the government is only spunking away a few tens of millions on this flop. They usually waste tens of billions on lost causes.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Box ticking

          They're not lost causes, they're "sponsorship"..

      2. Trigonoceps occipitalis Silver badge

        Re: Box ticking

        It is using Block Chains for the anchor.

        1. Billy Whiz
          Joke

          Re: Box ticking

          But only to the bitter end!

    2. Snowy Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Box ticking

      I was going to say Buzz Word Bingo but box ticking works too.

      1. Graham Dawson Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Box ticking

        yachtzee!

    3. Hero Protagonist
      FAIL

      Re: Box ticking

      They forgot to include blockchain

      1. Scott Broukell

        Re: Box ticking

        So long as we are going to use Build Back Boris Britain Better Boxes for those ticks. This must be all part of Leveling Up, you have to start at the bottom (trough) and somewhere near the seabed is just that. Also, it will be a great story for Cop(OUT)26.

      2. ComputerSays_noAbsolutelyNo

        Re: Box ticking

        They could make the anchor chain out of blocks: a minecrafty block-chain

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Box ticking

      ... while producing electricity. The more it travels, the more power it generates!

    5. IGotOut Silver badge

      Re: Box ticking

      Don't worry about block chain, that was last year.

      It's now VLCSaaS (Very Low Code Submarine as a Service).

  2. Stumo
    Alert

    Why a submarine?

    I don't fully understand what the benefits of it being a submarine, rather than a surface vessel, are? Does it go deep enough that it doesn't really need to worry about other traffic? Or is it all about the sea state and being less affected?

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: Why a submarine?

      The mention less affected by adverse weather conditions - though I assume it will still be affected at each port.

      1. 2+2=5 Silver badge

        Re: Why a submarine?

        > The mention less affected by adverse weather conditions - though I assume it will still be affected at each port.

        Being able to go beneath heavy seas is about the only advantage. I can see many disadvantages and I'm not even an expert.

        1) Buoyancy. They say the sub will have positive buoyancy to aid recovery. However, a shipping container - even full - has a lot of air in it so extra ballast will be required. This ballast can be in two forms: (a) permanently attached to the sub - which means the sub no longer has positive buoyancy or (b) externally attached so you end up with lumps of lead or steel gathering barnacles. Where do these go when not needed - left on the dockside? Or carried anyway? Or what?

        2) Shipping containers are not watertight. So you need a large loading bay door that can allow one to be craned in and then sealed watertight. That's a lot of finicky engineering to go wrong in real life, even if the prototype works.

        3) Fishing nets. How is the sub going to avoid fishing nets?

        and several more.

        For example: a shipping container has a lot of air in it so a lot of extra ballast is required - and you can't just use water - the sub has to sink

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Why a submarine?

      "Or is it all about the sea state and being less affected?"

      The plan is for it to travel at a depth of ~25 metres, so yes, sea state becomes pretty much a non-issue except at the very start and end of the journey.

      1. Is It Me

        Re: Why a submarine?

        And the start and end are likely to be in ports, which are usually in a harbour that is designed to shelter the vessels from the weather

        1. Snowy Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: Why a submarine?

          How many Harbours have an entrance that is more than 25 metres deep?

      2. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Meh

        Re: Why a submarine?

        25 meters may NOT be deep enough, FYI. Heavy seas at 100 foot keel depth were more than just noticeable as I recall. And if your navi-guession system can't handle taking 20 degree rolls every 2 seconds at that depth, and still compensate 'dead reckoning' so you do not go off course (it's too deep for GPS and radio navi-guession without a trailing wire antenna that would pose yet another navigation hazard to other ships in the area), then you could end up crashing into rocks or hitting a sea mountain without a whole lot of warning.

        And constantly pinging with active sonar will only do you so much good.

        If I wanted to build a ship that is incredibly hard to capsize and/or sink in bad weather I would build a catamaran or trimaran. But existing cargo shipping design is still pretty good.

        There are just SO many difficult-to-solve problems involving sub design vs surface ships. Just the trim and drain system ALONE (to deal with neutral bouyancy as part of depth control) is a huge part of it, with trim tanks, fixed and variable ballast tanks, emergency blow systems, low pressure blow systems, yotta yotta yotta.

    3. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: Why a submarine?

      in theory a submarine on or near the surface would potentially be A NAVIGATION HAZARD. Subs have specia navigation lights for when they are on the surface (including an amber spinny one as I recall) for that very reason. You only see about 10% of the actual boat above the water line.

      Subs are notoriously inefficient for cutting through surface water. Their hulls work well UNDER water but they are deliberately heavy with ballast. Attempting to use cargo in place of ballast is BEGGING for problems.

      And do not forget a fuel per mile calculation, which is EXTREMELY likely to favor a standard displacement hull over a submarine one for fuel efficiency.

      Subs are good for war and spying, because being under water you can HIDE. And unless you plan on carrying LOX with you (for a hydrogen-based propulsion), you would have to snorkel a lot. And snorkeling in places whee using subs WOULD make sense (like under the polar ice cap) may not even be possible (like under the ice cap).

      I spent nearly 4 years on a U.S. Navy sub. And I wouldn't use a sub for cargo. Nope. For FUN, sure, to cruise underwater for touring reasons, looking at fish and corals and things, or for exploration (like finding ship wrecks or new forms of life) but that's the extent of it.

      Robotic surface ships are a possibility though. Yet I think people would still want a captain on board to at least be available in case of emergency. And the total value of the cargo would justify it.

      And contrary to what some may believe, stormy weather still affects a sub at periscope depth and down to about 150 feet or so. You need to get a lot deeper than that to be unaffected by heavy seas and stormy weather.

      there are fuels for torpedo engines that can operate in a high speed engine without air, but the ones I have read about exhaust nasty substances (like cyanide gas) and therefore should not be used outside of military applications that make even BIGGER messes (like blowing up ships and other subs). And with 'green hydrogen' as the fuel, you'll need some kind of oxidizer (even for a fuel cell).

      Additionally I have read that the USSR experimented with placing rockets on the forward part of a torpedo so that the rocket exhaust would shroud the torpedo in a gas cloud, giving it some thrust but greatly reducing the friction of the surrounding water. They were apparently VERY impractical to use, though.

  3. steelpillow Silver badge
    Trollface

    Too many new technologies for this to be a real thing.

    Anybody sane would fund submarine fuel cells, cargo submarines, microplastics scrubbing and AI shipping as separate research projects.

    Anybody insane would have added CO2 scrubbing, Internet coverage, passenger cabins and stealth to the package.

    Most likely somebody knows somebody and Matey told them exactly what shit to put in the proposal so they could tick all the boxes without raising suspicions (Note to lawyers: In my humble opinion).

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    £380K

    The BBC:

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-58571143

    reported that the grant given to Oceanways was £380,000. Somehow I doubt that this will be enough to do much other than prepare a report...

    1. Snowy Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: £380K

      The report would be on what would be needed to do a study on how to build a prototype...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: £380K

        nonono... to do a study on how to conduct a feasibility analysis to consider all of a project's relevant factors—including economic, technical, legal, and scheduling considerations—to ascertain the likelihood of completing the project successfully.

        And I didn't even make it up, look at the internets!

        1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

          Re: £380K

          Sir Humphrey would be so proud.

        2. Snowy Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: £380K

          Very good except the "to ascertain the likelihood of completing the project successfully" part, that would never be part of it :o

      2. Ken G

        Re: £380K

        And will be written in a series of workshops held in hotels with good bars?

        1. Snowy Silver badge
          Joke

          Re: £380K

          Would these bars also be in warm areas of the world, with the bar being air conditioned?

    2. Eguro

      Re: £380K

      Their website is neat looking. And it appears they have arrived at a prototype stage at least.

      That might be a reason for the funding. Usually you like to fund either research or things that are close to ready.

      If this might become economically viable, then supporting it now is a way to speed it up. The submarines seem smaller than the word usually conjures up - cargo capacity around 5kg.

      There's a test run from London to Amsterdam slated for January 2022. Interesting.

      https://www.oceanways.co/mission-one

      1. Francis Boyle

        All I see

        are some drawings and some renderings and a desperate plea for someone to notice them.

      2. Chris G Silver badge

        Re: £380K

        This is at a very early stage if the first prototype can only carry 5Kg of cargo. At that size, I think they are trying to crack too many eggs, while the idea has some merits, the overall look is just that of a funding grabber.

        It will be interesting to see how far the prototype and the company goes.

        1. 2+2=5 Silver badge
          Joke

          Re: £380K

          > This is at a very early stage if the first prototype can only carry 5Kg of cargo. At that size, I think they are trying to crack too many eggs, while the idea has some merits, the overall look is just that of a funding grabber.

          I'm pretty sure various drug cartels already have already crack-ed cargo submarines with 5KG load capacities.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: £380K

        so... £380K for 5kg, how much for 100,000 tons? ;)

      4. Allan George Dyer Silver badge
        Holmes

        Re: £380K

        5kg of cargo from Amsterdam? Are you sure it isn't a Narco-submarine?

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: £380K

      The Beeb also suggested journeys between Glasgow & Belfast and that whisky might be a suitable cargo. Given that both countries produce it (give or take a spelling variaton) it looks like a coals to Newcastle job in both directions.

  5. R Soul
    WTF?

    How stupid is this?

    I wonder what these guys are smoking. This makes about as much sense as a jetski powered by a fusion reactor.

    A cargo-carrying submarine faces some rather obvious practical difficulties - for instance the watertight (at pressure) container-sized hole that will be needed for loading and unloading. Where's the oxygen for burning the hydrogen going to come from? If it uses some sort of snorkel, the sub will have to operate close to the surface and therefore be a major risk to shipping.

    The economics make no sense either. A sub will cost 10-100 times as much as to build a surface ship that has far more carrying capacity. It'll be the same story for running costs and maintenance. Besides, there's usually only 1 or 2 days a year when UK-EU ferry sailings get cancelled because of bad weather. So who's going to pay extra to put their containers in a sub instead of on a conventional ferry? It could well be cheaper to send stuff using the space shuttle.

    1. Filippo Silver badge

      Re: How stupid is this?

      "a jetski powered by a fusion reactor"

      Awesome idea, now to get a grant for that...

      1. Ken G
        Trollface

        Re: How stupid is this?

        Better still, sell it to Australia

    2. EvilDrSmith Silver badge

      Re: How stupid is this?

      "A cargo-carrying submarine faces some rather obvious practical difficulties"

      https://stingray.fandom.com/wiki/Terror_Fish

      And that's why they then build Stingray.

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: How stupid is this?

        Stingray - awesome show (saw it when I was a kid)

        Unfortunately the TV station only aired it when i was in school and I only got to watch the episodes when I was home sick (like when I had the mumps) back in the 1960's.

        [Thunderbirds was on AFTER I got home so I was able to see most of those - home VCRs had not been invented yet]

    3. RobThBay

      Re: How stupid is this?

      Sounds like something drug smugglers would fund.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "fast, zero-emission delivery"

    cynic in me says: there's never been better times than now to promote ideas of ZERO! EMISSION! DELIVERY! no matter whether realistic (do they have . And, on a less cynical note... why would you run cargo in underwater mode which, presumably, requires a lot more power to push through water, rather than to push 'a bit of it' through water, i.e. surface? Yeah, they mentioned, adverse weather condition, but still... unless we're trying to invade Ireland or France (again) - 'in secret'?!

    1. WolfFan Silver badge

      Re: "fast, zero-emission delivery"

      It’s always a good idea to invade France. Ireland, not so much.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "fast, zero-emission delivery"

      Actually, I think they have kick-started the whole zero emission game by choosing for nuclear powered subs.

      The bit they forgot in their enthusiasm to contain China is that China embarked on commercialising the nuclear reactor tech that the US originally envisioned for airplanes, which IMHO suggest that it's possibly also looking at fitting this in a new type of nuclear sub with far fewer problems than the current fission based design.

      Way to go to accelerate this.

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Meh

        Re: "fast, zero-emission delivery"

        with far fewer problems than the current fission based design.

        I am curious what problems those are,... (having operated one, and knowing that the U.S. Navy's nuclear operation and safety record is OUTSTANDING)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "fast, zero-emission delivery"

          Oh, their record is outstanding because they have very capable people manage a platform with known risks, and I have no doubt that that record will probably remain untarnished if for no other reason than blatant self-preservation :).

          What I'm alluding to is the very nature of the reactor itself. There are two types: fissile and fertile. What is presently in use if the fissile model because the whole planet has that, and it's basically a slowed down atomic bomb - a nuclear reaction slowed down by moderators and regulators. Lose control of the regulators and the reaction gets out of hand (Chernobyl), lose the moderator, ditto (Fukoshima) and it'll melt its way out of containment. I'm not counting coolant problems because in theory they're literally floating in it.

          The Chinese are going live with big commercial versions of the fertile model which needs a radioactive source to start and maintain the reaction, so it's easier to control. It also uses a different heat transport medium which doesn't need 300x physical space if something goes wrong and you need to take the pressure off. It does pose other problems (heat signature, for instance), but the whole model was originally envisaged to fly planes so it's small and dramatically more fuel efficient.

          It's only a matter of time before they will use their development for other purposes like subs. As a matter of fact, I suspect that's already underway, just not public. After all, they have a whole University which exclusively specialises in fissile nuclear work.

  7. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    Anyone here remeber Speed And Power Magazine?

    It was, IIRC, published sometime in the 1970's. One of the future predictions in it was submarine cargo ships. The artists impression from what I remember was something quite large, very wide and long, probably nuclear powered and was intended for world-wide transport. I think it might even have had a helicopter landing pad on the deck too.

    As a side note, they also published "silly" ideas of the past too, like a railway engine with a couple of horse on a treadmill and other similarly hilarious even if meant seriously at the time inventions. And there was always a a short SF story at the back from the likes of Clark or Asimov, and was one my first forays in my lifelong love of SF :-)

  8. Nematode

    Dilbert...

    ...is alive and kicking. This totally sounds like a pointy-haired-boss's idea! Makes no sense on any level, save publicity-friendly buzzwords, as discussed amply, above.

  9. bed

    Current issues

    Short sea crossing are, generally, shallow with strong currents; not ideal for a submarine, much better to build a bridge or tunnel - or is that so last week,

    1. Danny 2 Silver badge

      Re: Current issues

      Last week the crazy idea for a £15 billion tunnel from Scotland to Northern Ireland over the Beaufort Dyke munitions dump was quietly dropped by Boris.

      Presumably the submarine is distraction from that, or as a way to avoid EU goods checks.

      Orkney already has green hydrogen powered ferries, and soon to be aeroplanes. I like the idea of a mobile hydrogen generating vessel plugging directly in to off shore wind farms, avoiding the ridiculous grid charges and line losses.

  10. CtrlAltDel

    Refloat the Cutty Sark

    Sailors were using renewables long before fossil fuels came along.

    Regular surface vessels powered by hydrogen wouldn’t be a bad idea; the industry is already well practised at building ships that can store large quantities of volatile gases safely anyway.

    Having seen the monster diesel engines that have been built to power commercial vessels, it would be interesting to see what they come up with for an equivalent scale electric motor

  11. very angry man
    Facepalm

    amurkins

    successfully crossed the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco to Hawaii while mapping the seabed.

    thank god!

    the murkins think the world is flat and the pacific ocean ends at Hawaii. north stops at Canada and south at Mexico,

    I feel so much safer now.

  12. mr-slappy

    Sleaze

    I’m confused - the report doesn’t mention how much Oceanways founder and chief exec, Dhruv Boruah, has donated to the Conservative Party

  13. aqk
    Go

    And Hydrogen can be made from SEAWATER!

    All my journalist and liberal-arts PhD acquaintances have endlessly told me that hydrogen can be made from seawater.

    This hydrogen-powered sub surely is a wonderful new concept. No need to even surface!

    Finally I bow to the superior wisdom of politicians.

    Why, it's a win-win-win!

    1. G R Goslin

      Re: And Hydrogen can be made from SEAWATER!

      Oh, and what does it use for an oxygen supply? At -75 metres? And where does this 'green'. emission free hydrogen come from? It's only green if it comes only from your very own wind turbine, unconnected to the grid, and the manufacture of the vessel, the electoysis machinery, and all the ancilliaries, entirely from the same source the hyrogen came from? Good luck smelting iron from the ore using electric power, mining the ore and rolling the steel. It 'aint green, by a large chunk.

      Wisdom from polititions. Now there's a novel concept.

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