The American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) has granted design approval to a pioneering project that intends to adapt technology developed for use in space to maritime liquefied natural gas (LNG) fuel tanks.

SpaceTech4Sea is a European Union funded collaborative effort between ABS, OceanFinance and Cimarron Composites to realise the potential of composite space technology for use within the shipping industry, specifically as a more cost-effective alternative to marine LNG fuel tanks.

The project, which received €1m funding, will explore whether this alternative fuel tank technology will be suitable for primarily small, short sea shipping applications where weight must be considered.

Receiving Approval in Principle from ABS in September 2019, ABS Design Approval means the next step is a physical vessel installation of the space-age technology.

Speaking about the potential of the project, Patrick Ryan, ABS Senior Vice President, Global Engineering and Technology, said, “We have been excited about the potential of this technology to reduce barriers to the utilisation of LNG as fuel for some time and now it has further underlined that potential by meeting a series of exacting standards.”

“The next challenge is to support its safe application on a vessel.”

With this new application of composite material designed for space, industry players see it as being a proactive step towards advancing further technologies in other sectors, such as drones and in-space fuel depots.

Tom DeLay, Cimarron’s, Owner/CEO, said, “I see this as an exciting opportunity to apply aerospace technology to efforts to improve the environment here on Earth.”

“The maturity of this technology in maritime applications may uncover developments that help with aerospace applications for high altitude drones or in-space fuel depots.”

“Some new rocket propulsion concepts use liquid methane as a fuel. The advances in liquid methane transport can serve as a steppingstone toward liquid hydrogen transport.”

The SpaceTech4Sea project intend to use this technology to create ultra-lightweight LNG fuel tanks, which will reduce weight by up to 80% when compared to existing equivalent LNG tank designs.

This will also increase vessels’ capacity through LNG fuel retrofitting. In addition, space technology safety standards will be met, and tanks will be unaffected by corrosion.