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January 21, 2011

Aluminum foam could reduce the weight of ships by 30 percent

Researchers from Fraunhofer Institute for Machine Tools and Forming Technology in Chemnitz, Germany, have experimented with an aluminum powder that foams when heated up.

The aluminum foam could cut the weight of ships by 30 percent. For an average sized freight vessel with a capacity of 7000 m³ this corresponds to a weight reduction of more than 1000 tons.

* Less weight for the structure can mean more weight for payload.
* A lighter ship can also be designed to have a shallower draft so that it can go into shallower water
* A lighter ship can use less fuel relative to the amount of payload
* there could also be seasteading applications

The new material is lighter than water and has a high stiffness. Within seconds a cube made from aluminum starts to inflate into the shape of a sponge under the impact of heat. The secret of this reaction lies in the compounds of the new material. The metal is a mixture of aluminum and titanium hydride powder, which acts as a blowing agent just like yeast makes dough rise.

Translation of a finnish page on a aluminum foam ship design, bioship 1



BIOSHIP 1 is a double bottom with a single deck, which are in the wheelhouse of both ends of the ship. The ship is suitable for example, wood chips, peat, grain and transportation of waste paper.

Ship's length of preliminary plans, 110 meters, a width of 14 meters and a maximum draft of 2.4 meters. An empty vessel draft is 0.6 meters. Loading rate is scheduled for 2 400 cubic meters per hour.



The aim of the researchers from the EU research project CREATING was to find a processing method to build large aluminum foam sandwich plates. These compounds could eventually replace steel plates of a vessel. To form such sandwich compounds, the powder is initially pressed into bars. The bars are then placed between two steel sheets and heated in an oven. At a temperature of more than 650° Celsius the new material expands and bonds with the steel sheets without the help of any adhesives.

Tests proved the stiffness of the new material. Put under high stress it doesn’t break but only deforms. The advantage: A ship hull can travel through Northern Europe all year round, as it can even withstand ice sheets on the waters.

Koreans are also working on aluminum foam - 2009 video



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