Aussie ingenuity powers space satellites, future fuels

A small Australian manufacturer with a big idea is crafting fuel tanks for an aerospace giant to use in space.

Specialists at Omni Tanker, working out of an industrial suburb in western Sydney, have developed technology to transport liquid hydrogen and helium at high pressure under extreme temperatures as low as minus 269C.

CEO and founder Daniel Rodgers and chief technical officer Luke Djukic added a nano-engineered additive product developed by the University of NSW to prevent so-called "matrix cracks" when the tanks are used in outer space.

"Aussie ingenuity" is the secret to their patented composite materials and success in advanced manufacturing, according to Dr Rodgers.

The biggest challenge for liquefied hydrogen is density and how to carry the largest amount of energy possible without relying on heavy steel materials.

"We're going to be able to play a part in equipment to enable the energy transition, and that's where these kinds of collaborations can yield much more," Dr Rodgers told AAP.

But there are steps along the way, such as coming up with safe tanks for containerised liquid hydrogen and derivatives such as ammonia. 

"We are bringing all of these streams of technology together, and I think the terrestrial application is going to be, potentially, larger than the space application," he said.

Omni Tanker carbon fibre tank
Omni Tanker has developed technology to transport liquid hydrogen and helium at high pressure.

Omni Tanker's lightweight space tanks, developed with Lockheed Martin and UNSW, can also store and transport oxygen, hydrogen peroxide and hydrazine.

"We have these highly chemically resistant tanks that had plastic interiors, but we had aspirations to develop a fluorinated thermoplastic interior, like Teflon," Dr Djukic explained.

"It just so happened that it was something we'd wanted to do for our chemical transport tanks, for many years, and it was something that is going to be really advantageous to the space industry."

They have taken first orders for the transport sector, as well as having tanks ready for testing for use in space, which will turn innovation into cash.

A world-first carbon fibre composite triple road train, capable of moving almost 100 tonnes of chemical liquids, is already in use by Townsville Logistics for heavy acid transport across Northern Australia after its launch this year.

Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre managing director Jens Goennemann urged more manufacturers to look beyond their current businesses, in this case moving from road tankers to spacecraft.

He said Lockheed Martin backed "these two dudes from Smeaton Grange" because they are so good at what they are doing.

"We are globally competitive," Dr Goennemann said.

"It's generally not rocket science – except in this case it is."

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