The marine industry benefits from various technological advances driven by progress in nanoscale science and development. Nanotechnology permeates much of the world’s economy today, and one of the earliest capillary systems for the globalized flow of goods – the worldwide network of ports, ships, and shipping routes in the marine industry – is using it extensively.
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Nanotechnology has found applications in almost every industry today, making its mark with electronic devices, sensors, novel materials, compounds, and surface treatments.
Transportation as a whole has benefited from nanofilters, anti-glare coatings, carbon black for tyres, GMR sensors or magnetometers, fuel additives, dirt protection, electrocatalysts for hydrogen, and many more nanotechnology developments.
The marine industry – responsible for much of the world’s transportation of goods, materials, and people – has also embraced nanotechnology solutions for longstanding challenges as well as the most pressing contemporary concerns.
Measuring Nanotechnology’s Potential Marine Applications
Recently, leading European scientists led by International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory (INL) researchers embarked on a two-year study on nanotechnology’s marine applications. The so-called “KETmaritime” project was backed with a €1 million grant from the European Union’s European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
Researchers identified humidity and salinity as being the cause of around 30% of all ship failures, repair needs, and equipment modifications in the marine industry. The corrosion and biofouling caused by these factors negatively affect ships’ materials’ durability and performance.
This is a longstanding difficulty for the marine industry. Traditionally, protective coatings and paints have been used to slow down the degradation process, but new nanotechnology-based solutions are becoming ever more popular.
Nanostructured coatings, for example, contain nanoparticles that target and prevent the chemical reactions that corrode ships at their very first signs. These coatings operate on the scale of individual atoms and can significantly improve the durability of shipbuilding materials.
The KETmaritime project also improved sensors’ ability to withstand the effects of biofouling.
A study attached to the project, coordinated by Spanish technology center IDONIAL, found numerous products under development by various companies that employed nanotechnology solutions to deal with corrosion and biofouling. These included nano additives like nano-ZnO, nano alumina, and nanosilica.
The IDONIAL team said that there are many more possible applications for nanotechnology in the marine industry. They noted that sustainable shipbuilding, fuel economy, and offshore renewable energy generation could all benefit from new nanotechnology approaches.
Nanotechnology Responses to Challenges Facing the Marine Industry
The marine industry, one of the first large industries in the globalized world and a critical capillary system for our modern economy, faces new challenges like the threat of climate change, a necessity to decarbonize, and the best use of industrial digital technologies – as well as old ones like rust. Many of these are met with nanotechnology-based answers.
Environmental Concerns and Regulations
The international marine industry is currently adapting to a new raft of environmental regulations brought in in the last few years in response to growing consensus and concern about the climate emergency that the planet faces.
In April 2018, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which oversees the global marine industry, announced a new strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the industry to 50% of 2008 levels by 2050.
The IMO is also embarked on a program to reduce sulfur emissions from marine transport by 80%, which begun in 2020. A new low sulfur cap for fuel was introduced to achieve this.
Nanotechnology-based solutions are well-placed to help the marine industry meet these new objectives in a cost-effective and transparent way.
On-board sensors, remote sensing, Internet-of-Things (IoT) connectivity, and computing technologies – based on nanotechnology contributions to electronics, sensors, and circuit boards – are all necessary for the environmental monitoring that must hold the industry to its stated aims.
Fuel additives using nanoparticles can help to improve fuel efficiency while reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Hydrogen also makes use of nanotechnology in developing electrocatalysts that turn water into fuel and is seen by some as an important part of shipping’s transition away from fossil fuels.
Best Use of New Technologies
Nanotechnology is arguably behind all of the enabling technologies driving the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0. This is the movement toward integrating smart sensors, connected devices, and automated control using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).
The sensors, transistors, computer chips, and receivers that make all of this technology work use nanoscale devices and materials to work, manipulating the peculiar workings of matter at its smallest possible interacting (quantum) scale of size.
Nanotechnology provides this wealth of new industrial processes and methods, and – with big data analysis and algorithmic help in studying large, complex systems – is even guiding marine industry decisions about how to use them.
The prize for successful adoption of this new technology is more efficient operations, minimal use of energy and resources, and increased resilience against challenges to come.
Continue reading: The Future of Removing Microplastics from Water with Nanotubes.
References and Further Reading
Jiang, Y. L., X. R. Liang, and S. Y. Wu (2011). Nanotechnology Applications in the Field of Ship Protection. Materials Science Forum. Available at: https://doi.org/10.4028/www.scientific.net/MSF.694.239.
Matthew, J., J. Joy, and S. C. George (2019). Potential applications of nanotechnology in transportation: A review. Journal of King Saud University. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jksus.2018.03.015.
Nanotechnology Marine Applications looks at a fix for corrosion and biofouling. (2019) International Institute of Marine Surveying. Available at: https://www.iims.org.uk/nanotechnology-marine-applications-looks-at-a-fix-for-corrosion-and-biofouling/.
Nordqvist, C. (2020). The 3 Biggest Challenges Facing the Marine Industry. Market Business News. Available at: https://marketbusinessnews.com/challenges-marine-industry/231717/.