FEATURE | UK company developing hydrogen-fuelled autonomous vessel prototype

UNMANNED CRAFT WEEK
Photo: Acua Ocean

UK-based maritime tech startup company Acua Ocean is currently developing an autonomous surface vessel prototype that will be powered entirely by hydrogen.

Developed in collaboration with local naval architecture firm Ad Hoc Marine Designs, the maritime autonomous surface ship (MASS) prototype will feature a small waterplane area twin hull (SWATH) form to guarantee improved stability due to reduced motion. Also, the hydrogen fuel will yield CO2 emissions reductions of as much as 90 per cent compared to similar craft running on conventional marine fuels.

The project team expects the MASS will be capable of staying out at sea for up to 60 days while operating at four knots, though a peak speed of 20 knots can be achieved. The long endurance will be made possible by the total liquid hydrogen fuel capacity of 6,000 litres.

Photo: Acua Ocean

The craft will also be capable of accommodating a range of plug-and-play sensors and other equipment such as VHF radios, thermal cameras, long-range acoustic devices (LRADs), and even aerial drones. The payload will total 4,500 kilograms, making the craft suitable for use across a range of maritime sectors such as environmental monitoring and security. Numerous examples of the vessel will be built and deployed in swarms to ensure maximum geographical coverage of sensors.

Even with its planned use in different sectors, the vessel is being developed to initially serve as an offshore IoT data platform with AI- and edge-based processing for data analysis, threat and anomaly detection, and real-time decision-making.

The craft will be under continuous 24-hour monitoring thanks to a dedicated operating system. Besides informing operators of performance parameters and the vessel’s present condition in real-time, the system will also quickly indicate operators on maintenance requirements, thereby reducing turnaround times.

Although the MASS prototype itself is still under development, Acua Ocean claims the design has already received approval in principle (AIP) from classification society Lloyd’s Register for its hydrogen system, its control engineering system, and its electrical power distribution systems. The award of the AIP came following factory acceptance testing of the prototype systems that was undertaken in March 2022 as part of the UK government’s Clean Maritime Demonstration Competition (CMDC). Other work in the pipeline includes incorporating automation into the onboard hydrogen systems.

Acua Ocean expects to conduct site acceptance testing of the MASS prototype in 2023 and swarm demonstrations in 2024 following the construction of additional examples. The initial operational deployment of the first MASS swarm fleet is scheduled for 2025.

Photo: Acua Ocean

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