UK startup developing hydrogen-powered autonomous cargo sub

hydrogen autonomous cargo sub

A UK advanced mobility startup has won a government grant to support development of its hydrogen-powered, emissions-free cargo sub planned for use on point-to-point transport missions.

London-based Oceanways is working on an array of sustainable underwater uncrewed vehicles (UUV) that can serve several purposes while in operation. The hydrogen cell-powered autonomous cargo sub now being developed will run beneath established shipping lanes, where it will also suck up floating micro-plastic pollution. Sensors in the drone will assist execution of pre-established navigation commands, and collect data for continuing operational improvement and marine research with every mission. When necessary, they can also cruise over relatively shallow passages that larger boats cannot.

Rather than seeking to replace giant container ships dominating marine freight, Oceanways plans to operate its UUV on speedy runs carrying particular goods between specific ports. One example the company gives is a limited supply of whiskey being ferried between Belfast and Glasgow that might otherwise be sent by air. Use of hydrogen tech, the company says, will eliminate over 1,270 tons of CO2e emissions annually compared to traditional transport options. 

The $525,000 grant Oceanways received in the government’s Clean Maritime Demonstration Competition was part of a wider $31.8 million state fund supporting development of  environmentally friendly maritime transport technologies. Global freight shipping currently generates about 3% of total carbon emissions, and the UK aims to lower its share of that to zero by 2050.

In addition to orchestrating navigation, communications, and data collection, sensors in Oceanways’ hydrogen-powered autonomous cargo subs will keep watch for and avoid underwater obstacles – including any sea life they may encounter. Gill-like microfiber filters on the sides of the UUV will collect micro-plastics during operation. Once destinations are reached, self-mooring and -refueling capabilities will speed the drone’s offloading and turnaround time.

“These submarines are superior to a cargo ship in almost every way,” Oceanways says. “Not only they are weather independent, can reach hard to reach areas, and a lot cheaper to build and operate, but (are) also quieter, secure, more stable, and cleaner, with zero fumes or pollutants.”

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