Professor with marine vision

Tom Shelley interviews Professor Carl Ross about his vision of using composites in future cutting edge projects to make use of the planet's resources

Professor Ross spent much of his working life on the design of pressure hulls for Royal Navy submarines, but has since applied his skills to the design of hulls to be made of composites for civilian submersibles that could work at much greater depths, and other novel pressure resistant fabrications that we intend to reveal details of in Eureka's December edition. On a recent visit to his laboratory at Portsmouth University, he and his colleague Dr Andrew Little, showed us one of his pressure tanks capable of performing tests at 1200 bar, roughly equivalent to a water depth of 12km. This is deeper than the bottom of the Challenger Deep, the deepest spot in the World's oceans which goes down 11km. When we asked why he was designing composite hulls to go to such depths, he responded that, "we see this as a real possibility for making deep diving submarines to assist the recovery of valuable commodities. For a start, we have got all that methane hydrate down there. "There's about $1.25million worth for every person living on the planet. It's not going to cost anything like that much to retrieve it. We could burn it along with other fossil fuels and capture and deposit the carbon dioxide down there where it will become hydrate and stay there safely sequestered for tens of millions of years." Although bathyscaphes - a free diving self propelled deep sea diving submersible - have been to the deep ocean depths, these consisted of steel spheres suspended beneath buoyancy tanks filled with petrol. If a practical submarine were to be made of steel, he points that that if it was 10m in diameter it would need to have a hull 2.7m thick making it, 'sink like a stone'. However, if made of composite it could be made much lighter and be quite practicable. The other area where Professor Ross has been attracting some media attention lately is making used of North Sea offshore technology by building 'floating cities' to help house the world's growing population. Since most of the surface area of the world is sea, he proposes the idea of living areas that would initially float, but would have, "hollow legs like an oil rig. These would each have a compartment at the bottom. After letting the legs down onto the ocean floor, material from the sea bottom would be sucked in to stabilise the structure. The idea is currently a finalist in the nPower Bright Ideas competition." This idea has already taken root in other parts of the world. On 17th June 2009, Fuzhou Maritime Floating Island Development and Beijing Xinmin High-technology Investment signed a contract for the construction of a floating island resort project in Xiamen,China, complete with a 7 star hotel.