Aluminium foam could reduce weight of ships by 30%

Picture courtesy of Laffcomp Oy
Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Machine Tools and Forming Technology have experimented with an aluminium powder that could replace steel plates in vessels and reduce their weight by up to 30%. For an average sized freight vessel with a capacity of 7000m³, this corresponds to a weight reduction of more than 1000 tons.

The experiment is part of an EU research project called CREATING, which was set up to strengthen the position of inland shipping. Researchers at Fraunhofer were able to produce a metal made up of aluminium and titanium hydride powder that is lighter than water, foams when heated and has a high stiffness even under extreme pressure.

The powder is initially pressed into bars, which are then placed between two steel sheets and heated in an oven at approximately 650°C. At this extreme temperature, the material expands and bonds with the steel sheets, without the help of any adhesives. According to researchers, the material doesn't even break under high stress, it only deforms, meaning that a ship hull could even withstand ice sheets on the water.

It is thought that this new development could revolutionise the future of freight transportation. For shipping companies, a lighter ship means more payload, less trips, less fuel consumption and less CO2 emissions. Running with liquid natural gas means it will also avoid oil pollution in case of an accident.

Author
Laura Hopperton

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