German Navy Launches U31 Fuel Cell Submarine

March 26, 2002 by Jeff Shepard

Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft AG (HDW, Kiel, Germany) has christened U31, the first of four 212A class submarines. Destined for the German Navy, U31 is scheduled for commissioning on March 30, 2004. The new class 212 submarine developed by HDW has an air-independent propulsion system using a hydrogen fuel cell. HDW is reported to be the first shipyard in the world to offer a fuel cell propulsion system ready for series production.

The fuel cell plant, which produces electrical energy from oxygen and hydrogen, allows the new class of submarines to cruise under water for weeks without surfacing. Conventional diesel-electric submarines use up their battery power after about two days cruising under water. In addition, the fuel cell makes no noise and produces no give-away exhaust heat. These factors help to make the submarine virtually undetectable.