New materials are allowing boat builders to design and create stronger, more durable craft. Buckypaper and graphene are transforming what is capable in the marine industry.
Buckypaper is a strong and lightweight material made from compressed carbon nanotubes. These nanotubes are approximately 50,000 times thinner than a human hair. Buckypaper is one tenth the weight yet can be around 500 times the strength of steel when its sheets are stacked to form a composite.
The material is an aggregate of these nanotubes, and owes its name to buckminsterfullerene, and allotrope of carbon that was named after architect and futurist R. Buckminster Fuller.
It is currently being used in electrical shielding, construction, and even protection from electro magnetic pulses. Due to its excellent thermal conductivity, it could be used to develop more effective heat sinks that would allow for electronics to disperse heat more efficiently, leading to increased miniaturisation.
Research is even being conducted into whether buckypaper could be integrated into personal armour for combat.
Ships made from buckypaper would be more energy efficient as they’d be lighter than ships made from traditional materials. It’s corrosion resistant and flame retardant, making ships much safer.
Similar to buckypaper, graphene is stronger and lighter than more traditional boat building materials. It was discovered by two researchers in 2004, and the work would go on to win them a Nobel Prize. It’s 200 times stronger than steel and incredibly light. Graphene is simply a layer of pure carbon, and has the potential to revolutionise boat building, as well as a number of other industries.
It could theoretically reduce the drag of large ships by up to 50%, which would mean a drastic reduction in fuel consumption. It could also be applied to the yachting and racing industry, keeping the boats fast but with greater structural integrity and resilience. The material is resistant to corrosion and can withstand impacts which would damage boats made of weaker materials.
Perhaps most interesting is the material’s ability to attract oil and repel water. This has exciting possibilities beyond boat construction, and may be vital in oil clean up efforts. Graphene oxide has even less surface roughness, meaning water glides off it with almost no resistance.
There are two different types of graphene oxide film that could be applied to boat hulls, a "rug" arrangement that creates a nearly atomically smooth surface, or a “brick” arrangement, where the particles clump into tiny "bricks" forming a bumpy and uneven surface. The rug surface causes water to spread out in a thin layer, while the brick surface causes water to bead up and run off. These properties are known as super-hydrophobic and super-hydrophilic, respectively.
The EU has planned to invest £800 million into graphene research, as there is only so much that can be done with the amount of graphene we are currently able to produce. It has potential applications in electronics, aerospace, and of course the marine industry.
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