Project Orca, University of Washington Human Powered Submarine

Estimated Amount to be requested from the CSF: $2,500

Letter of Intent:

Dear CSF Committee, 


My name is Alex Bartoletti and I am an undergraduate student in mechanical engineering at the University of Washington. I am the Hull Team Lead for the UW Human Powered Submarine (UWHPS) team on campus and we are requesting funds for the manufacture of our newly designed sustainable hull for the 2021-2022 school year. As a team, we design and build a submarine every year to race at the International Submarine Races (ISR) in Maryland and European International Submarine Races (eISR). We use the same hull for two years in a row, and every other year we design and manufacture a new and improved composite hull to be used in the subsequent two years. This school year (2020-2021), we will be manufacturing a new hull. 


This year our team decided that we wanted to take a new approach to manufacturing our submarine hull. In years past, we have almost always used a carbon fiber reinforced polymer layup. All the materials used in this process are very detrimental to the environment. The production of carbon fiber releases a significant amount of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere as well as being about 14 times as energy intensive as steel manufacturing. In addition, the epoxy resins normally used in the manufacturing process are plastics that create a lot of waste and tend to sit in landfills after use. With this knowledge, we decided to make it our goal to manufacture the new submarine hull in the most sustainable and environmentally conscious method. 


Since setting this goal, our team has immersed ourselves in research on sustainable materials and manufacturing processes that can suit our submarine needs. Ultimately, we have decided that we want to use a natural flax fiber with an eco-friendly epoxy resin in a resin infusion layup process with a recycled foam or balsa wood core material. We chose flax fiber for ease of use and naturally sustainable properties. It also shows desirable strength and stiffness properties suitable for the durability necessary in our submarine. Another option we considered was recycled chopped carbon fiber, but this material is less sustainable and presents a more difficult manufacturing process with more variable results. In addition to a sustainable fiber, we decided that an eco-friendly epoxy resin was equally necessary. Our research pointed us to a few companies such as Entropy Resins, who develop bio-based resins. 


We believe that these components can help us become more sustainable, and act as a role model for the many other engineering clubs at the UW and elsewhere who use carbon fiber reinforced polymers year after year. We want to be able to teach our fellow engineering teams how to use more sustainable material and educate them on the differences and benefits compared to traditional carbon fiber. Hopefully, we can motivate other teams to take a longer look at environmental sustainability in their projects.


Our engineering club consists of about 50 members from multiple engineering disciplines. The club and projects are student run and executed with some guidance and advice from our faculty advisor, Benjamin Maurer. The main goal on the human powered submarine team is to give students real engineering experience while working together to build a competitive submarine for competition. At the moment, our team is very young and lacks a lot of technical experience in composite design and manufacture. As the Hull Team Lead, I would be in charge of helping my own team members, as well as members from other sub-teams learn these processes both in person and remotely. In a world where focus on environmental impact has become so important, I see a great opportunity to train these members with a distinct focus on sustainability. 


Last year, our team placed first in our virtual design competition and we are motivated by this win to push further and harder. We are currently ahead of schedule, and with this year’s competition already announced to be virtual, we have all the more time and excitement to dive into sustainability. In communication with our sponsors, we have begun to organize workshops and tutorials that can be held in person (if possible) or remotely to teach our members more about engineering composites. It is another goal of ours to get as much positive engineering and sustainability experience out of this project as possible. This will help put forth more experienced and environmentally responsible engineers into the workforce. 


We are asking for your funding to purchase flax fiber, eco-friendly resin systems, and any other necessary environmentally sustainable materials or supplies to complete the manufacture of our submarine hull. We are already in communication with suppliers and plan to order material by the end of Autumn quarter and begin manufacturing of the hull by the end of winter quarter. We expect the flax fiber to cost about $1800, the resin to cost about $650, and core material to cost about $100. Our annual Hull Team budget is normally about $1350 but this year there may be some additional funding moved around to help us pay for the new hull. Our Hull Team budget includes the money also needed to manufacture other system components not included in this sustainability proposal. This includes manufacturing the window, control fins, and fairings and the materials necessary for these processes. 


We believe that we can start a positive change towards sustainability in the engineering clubs at the University of Washington and our team is dedicated towards making this happen. Please reach out to me if you have any more questions about our project or plan. I, as well as my whole team, am very excited and passionate about what we are trying to do and I would love to speak with you more. 




Alex Bartoletti



Primary Contact First & Last Name: Alex Bartoletti