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July 14, 2007


no name

Nothing new there, the german army has a fuel cell powered sub in duty since almost 2 years http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U_31_(Type_212) the german page gives more details, but is ... in germen :) http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/U_31_(Bundeswehr)


These new subs are a major threat to the US navy and giving defense planners fits as countries like IRAN, CHINA, and N. KOREA adopt the technology to their sub fleets.

Sounds like an ideal source of power, doesn't it?


The reason the US Navy didn't invest in developing something like this and will likely remain nuclear is because our subs need to go on much longer patrols than three weeks and have missions globally. The Greek subs would be much more regionally based, whereas Boomers (ballistic missile subs) need about three weeks alone just to make sure they are well hidden. Making sure you are alone and getting into position takes a long time. With three weeks, you'd just be getting there and have to come home. The same is true for attack subs. You wouldn't get much work done and vastly increase the chances that enemy Boomers would get through undetected.

Carl Hage

"I don't think the US Navy has any thing like this, I wonder why not."

Just look at the space required for fuel. The reactor for the Los Angeles class submarine is about 150MW. Doing a little calculation, the latent heat of liquid hydrogen is 2.4MWh/cubic-meter, so 1 hour at full power would need more than 60 cubic meters of LH2.

The 9 34KW fuel cells are about 300KWe, or at 50% efficincy, about 600KW thermal. For 100 hours of operation at full power, about 25 cubic meters of LH2 is needed.

[The fuel cell bus demos have used 200KW fuel cells, so this submarine power plant is just a bit more than a bus.]


fjh hit the nose on the head with regard to size requirements. The Fuel Cell sub the Greeks now have are wonderful...for the Greek Navy. The Submarines the US Navy has in its arsenal now are intended for LONG range patrols in excess of 65-90 days, mostly all of it submerged. I'm not sure a fuel cell powered sub possess that type of endurance given its size in relation to the amount of storage space needed to support such patrols. Anyway the Virginia Class attack submarines I'm reliably informed can be as quiet as a fuel cell powered sub the type the Germans and now the Greeks now have.

Dan O'Donnell

The US' LA class attack boats are indeed blue water subs, and the mission of those boats are different than the smaller diesel-electric (DE) and fuel cell boats of Germany and Greece. In fact, the Russians have (and make and sell) DE boats as well.

But comparing these two and concluding that the LA class boats are superior is comparing apples and oranges. Certainly the DE and FC boats are not up to patrolling in large oceans, but the LA class - and the Virginia class as well - are not as good at patrolling waters such as the Persian Gulf or the Taiwan Straits, or even the passages through Indonesian waters between the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean. In fact, the nuclear attack boats are so large that they are at a distinct disadvantage in shallow and constrained waters like that.

There has long been an argument in the Navy about having "brown water" coastal subs, but this argument always loses to the entrenched nuclear submariners. This is an oversight for any navy that needs to patrol the areas mentioned above. And in waters like those mentioned above, a DE or FC sub has tremendous advantages over an LA class because it is smaller, more maneuverable, and quieter in a very noisy environment. Furthermore, these smaller boats can sit on the bottom while the big nuc boats cannot.

My advice is to not believe the propaganda about the superiority of nuclear attack class boats over the smaller conventionally powered boats. Keep in mind that the US Navy got a very nasty surprise a few months ago when they discovered a PRCN DE boat far out to sea in the Pacific.

Kit P

Dan, have you heard of nuclear air craft carriers?

While small quite submarines are certainly 'dog-in-the manger' warfare on the cheap, what would happen to any country that decides to take out an nuclear air craft carriers and unload the submarine's load of torpedoes on civilian shipping?

Five more nuclear air craft carriers will be on station in two or three days. Out running anti-sub aircraft and nuclear depth charges is not an option.

Keep in mind that all but a few "brown water" navies maneuver with the US Navy. Greece is part of NATO.


Have they considered hydrocarbon fuel cells?

Jim Baerg

Are there effective hydrocarbon fuel cells? The fuel cells I've heard of use relatively simple molecules as fuel. Eg: Hydrogen, methanol & dimethyl ether.

Is my information way out of date?


"Are there effective hydrocarbon fuel cells?"

Sure there are. AmazingdrX will tell you all about it ;). There are megawatt-size SOFC's already operating in the world, but mostly for stationary applications. Rolls-Royce has such a system that might just fit in a sub. If that doesn’t work, it's also possible to reform high-energy hydrocarbons (diesel/kerosene) on board for a PEM fuel cell. Direct methanol fuel cells are another alternative.

As was mentioned, elemental hydrogen takes up a lot of space, but it’s also not a very practical fuel in general and because of fire hazards, it’s not an obvious choice in an attack sub. Also, if a more common fuel like diesel can be used, refuelling options increase. The submarine could just be refuelled by another ship on the open sea (most ships are diesel powered). There are no hydrogen tankers in the world AFAIK, so specialised ships etc. would have to be constructed if these things are to be useful for longer missions.

Newsflash, hydrogen has infrastructure problems…


I wholly agree with O'Donnel when he says we need "brown water" capabilities for places like the Persian Gulf, Straits of Malacca and Taiwan, etc. and our big nuclear boomers and attack boats are not ideal for this. However, unlike the nations that have these brown water boats, we aren't the locals. To employ a "brown water" boat in these areas, we'd either have to station it locally, which isn't feasible for some of those places, or it would have to transit the big blue water ocean to get to its assigned patrol. Maybe something like this Greek sub could somehow piggyback on another ship, or something, but if we bought these subs as they are now, those patrols would be pretty short by the time they got on station. Either that, or they would have to refuel in transit, which would give everyone with intel assets like satellites a fix on their starting location and probable location, route, endurance, etc.

So I don't entirely agree that this is merely stubborn resistance to change by "entrenched" nuclear submariners. Both types are good for their purpose.

Barry Hearn

Could the fuel cell be used to power a electric under ground loader, a loader size 470kW power 20 ton load haul and dump. The advantages of this would be not having a electric trailing cable, less harmfull gas produced in the under ground inviroment.


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The main function of fuel cells is to produce electrical energy from the oxygen and hydrogen. It allow the submarine to cruise under water for up to two weeks. The all process done without any resurfacing.

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It allow the submarine to cruise under water for up to two weeks. The all process done without any resurfacing.

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