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The submarine revolution: lithium-ion battery system for a better performance


For years, researchers and developers have been working on a new battery system for submarines. With a revolutionary result: The new lithium-ion battery system can take technology under water to a new level.

The new lithium-ion battery system for submarines could be a milestone in the industry. Compared to the well-known lead-acid battery, the lithium-ion battery requires very little maintenance and has a longer service life. Dr. Rolf Wirtz, CEO of thyssenkrupp Marine Systems: “The use of the new battery technology has enormous tactical advantages. We are entering a new era of submarine construction.”

Rarely seen: A submarine typen 212A on land.

A new era of submarine construction

The idea has been in the minds of our researchers for about 15 years, and intensive work on the new battery has been underway since 2015. As research in this area is subject to strong security requirements, we do not mention the experts by name in this article. One of our experts for the battery system accompanied the first tests in July and August 2019: “These tests were very successful, which we did not expect at all. Often something goes wrong during the first shock tests. But this test was very positive. That was the highlight of this year”.

High safety standards

The tests have marked a real breakthrough on the way to the use of lithium-ion batteries in submarines. Because the demands on use underwater are immense. “The lithium-ion battery has an incredible amount of energy in it. If something were to happen underwater, it would be catastrophic. Therefore it is our task to develop and design the battery as safely as possible”.

When it comes to lithium-ion batteries, many of us think of exploding cell phones, laptops or burning electric cars. But regardless of this, the safety of the battery system in a submarine must meet the highest requirements. “Bringing this battery aboard a submarine is only possible if it does not start to burn in any situation.” It must not catch fire because there are situations in which the crew cannot leave the boat. “The battery must also provide safety in extreme situations, such as fire or accidents. The new battery has passed all safety tests, confirming that the risk is minimal.

Advantages of the lithium-ion battery

Show up as little as possible – don’t blow you cover. This could be easier for submarine commanders in the future, explains one of the responsible: “How long the new battery lasts depends on the speed at which the boat cruises. With a lithium-ion battery, the submarine can stay underwater much longer than with a lead-acid battery. We’re talking about several days here.” The energy stored in the entire battery block could supply a small town for hours.

A cross section of a submarine type 212A

Because with the lead-acid battery that was previously used, submarines have to stay on the surface of the water for a long time in order to charge the batteries with the diesel engine. In addition, the lead-acid battery loses power over time and must be charged more frequently as the service life increases. This is not the only reason why changing battery systems is a small revolution:

“For the tactical capabilities of the boat, the battery offers a whole range of possibilities. The submarine has more energy, can stay under water longer, can drive at top speed longer and needs shorter charging times,” says the engineer. In addition, the lithium-ion battery is literally maintenance-free.

When do submarines use the new lithium-ion battery system as standard?

The use of lithium-ion batteries in submarines – a revolution in the market: “We would then be the first in the western hemisphere to bring this new technology to market.” Until then, the final tests and minor corrections will have to be completed. The goal for those involved in the project is clear: “In one year we want to complete the final tests and the development of the battery. Then it should be ready for installation.”

The lithium-ion batteries are designed so that they can be installed in any submarine with slight technical adaptations and thus directly replace the lead-acid battery. After the new battery has passed the type test, the next step is the contract with a customer to finally install the system onboard and benefit from its advantages.