In our topic hub on the future of shipping, we’re asking how nanomaterials in mainstream manufacturing will affect the nature of cargo.
Nanomaterials – a term describing those materials, organic or synthetic, in which a single unit is usually sized between 1 and 100 nanometers (nm) – are typically lighter and stronger, perform better at extreme temperatures, and provide better insulation than their counterparts. For example, Buckypaper, a thin sheet made of carbon nanotubes, is one tenth the weight of steel but potentially 500 times as strong. Already, nanomaterials are used in a variety of ways in the aviation industry, mostly as fillers and coatings, where the weight to strength ratio of materials is particularly important.
As the commercial and sustainability benefits of nanomaterials gain traction, there have been calls for greater material standardisation, transparent pricing and security of supply to enable more widespread use of these materials in mainstream manufacturing. Players from across the electronics, medical, construction and marine industries are experimenting with the use of nanomaterials. As an early example, Zyvex Marine has manufactured a prototype craft using composite non-enhanced carbon fibre. Zyvex reported a 75% reduction in fuel consumption costs, translating to increased range and lower operating cost.
Image credit: Brookhaven National Laboratory
Economies of scale resulting in more widespread supply and application of nanomaterials could impact shipping directly and indirectly.
- New materials may have a profound impact on the way that ships are built, operated and ultimately recycled at the end of their lives. Ship builders need to understand how new lightweight and recyclable materials, combined with other innovations such as self-healing coatings and on-board component production, will affect their design choices.
- Investment in ‘nano-enhanced’ ships could give companies a competitive edge as forthcoming emissions regulation is implemented. Nanotechnology has the potential to transition manufacturing into a new era, with the rise of nanofactories producing materials with superior capabilities while reducing their environmental impact. Such a transition is certain to have an impact on the shipping industry - from the ships themselves to the contents and weight of their cargo.