The Great Courses 1

As technology evolves, industries evolve with it. A clear example of how innovation can positively affect an industry is to look at the capabilities of Nanotechnology, and its impact on the shipping industry.
For the average joe, nanotechnology sounds like something out of this world. According to the Oxford Dictionary, Nanotechnology refers to ‘’the branch of technology that deals with dimensions and tolerances of less than 100 nanometers, especially the manipulation of individual atoms and molecules.’’
Nanotechnology has the ability to improve several areas within a single industry. Whether it’s for security purposes or safer transportation of cargo, nanotechnology’s got your back. Here are five amazing ways, nanotechnology is changing the shipping industry.
Safer transportation
According to a reviewed study, changing the structure of a material on a nanoscale allows for changes of their characteristics. These changes can increase the hardness, the elasticity at high temperatures, improve breaking strength and increase the fracture toughness of the steel used for the ship.
These changes contribute to safer transport for cargo. For instance, by using nanoscale manipulation or a ‘’nanocoating’’ to increase the durability of welds on a ship, it minimizes the need for repairs and replacements.
As regular metals deteriorate a lot quicker when faced with environmental factors such as the ocean, applying an anti-corrosion nano-coating also protects the vessel from rusting.
While still being in the research and development stage, the tests done by applying nanotech to strengthen aluminum, for instance, were promising in that they were able to increase the strength by over 150% in comparison to untreated aluminum. Showing potential for later uses on a real vessel.
Pollution prevention
Unfortunately, when dealing with huge vessels, pollution is bound to happen. The open ocean is one of the harshest environments that metals can endure. But over time, biofouling – the accumulation of damaging organisms (such as algae) that attach themselves onto the vessel – becomes an issue. It can add weight and increase the drag of the ship. This significantly reduces fuel efficiency which in turn leads to increased fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
Most algae and barnacle killers are toxic and harmful to the environment. If a company wants to adhere to CSR policies, then companies operating with large vessels need to find a way to prevent biofouling from happening in the first place, but also prevent further environmental damage.
Incorporating nanotechnology in a non-stick coating is not only effective in preventing foreign organisms from sticking to the ship. It is also a better alternative to the previously used non-stick coating agent tributyltin that has been banned for its extremely toxic properties.
The nano slippery coating has the extra benefit of reducing drag, which means the ships can sail with more efficiency and less energy.
Utilizing nanotechnology in the coating to prevent biofouling, is still being tested. However, the tests have been done, both at Sydney harbor, and much harsher marine environments, with both examples, still showing a significant efficiency in resisting fouling.
Security measures
A more dangerous aspect of the shipping industry is the possibility of a weapon and drug smuggling on to the cargo. As each shipping delivery goes through various checkpoints before reaching its final destination, terrorists and drug smugglers have an opportunity to use the cargo as a modern day trojan horse.
Nanotechnology could be applied in different ways to increase the security while transporting freight. For instance, by coating the nanosensors with a conductive coating that can detect energetic particles, it can alert the security team of the presence of materials that have been smuggled in.
Nanotechnology could also be used in the form of tracking devices. Similar to that of a chip used on animals, nanotechnology has the potential to track the movement of freight from each of the checkpoints and means of transportation, providing a constant ‘’updated position’’. By using nano-sensors in seal tags, could also be used to alert the senders of any potential tampering of goods.
Just like the previous ways, applying nanotechnology into security measures is still in its infant stage, however, The National Nanotechnology initiative, which is a federal research and development program, sees the potential of applying nanotechnology to this part of the industry.
Enhanced power supply
All ships carry additional generators onboard to ensure that there is an uninterrupted power supply (UPS) ready in case of a power failure. In case the primary generator ceases to function, a battery that has been enhanced with nanotechnology can be used to provide UPS to the vessel until the secondary generator comes online.
Nanotechnology has the capability of improving batteries in several ways. By using a special nano coating, it has the potential to increase the number of charges from just thousands to several hundreds of thousands, potentially eliminating the need for a replacement battery. Adding silicon coated nanotubes to the insides of a battery increases the capacity by as much as 10 times.
Nanotechnology is still very much in its infant stages, even with the examples of battery research, these have yet to be used by actual vessels. However, researchers have shown that there is potential usage in the modifications done to the nanotech applied batteries.
Another great thing about nanotechnology is the cost efficiency that comes along with applying this type of technology, as opposed to conventional methods. As mentioned before, nanotechnology provides better alternatives for previously used methods which improve cost-efficiency.
For instance, as nano-coating reduces the amount of drag and protects the ship from environmental damage, it reduces the costs that are associated with removing biofouling and repairing the damage that the environment has caused on the ship.
The benefits of nanotechnology on improved battery life also removes the need for purchasing extra energy supplies, as they are able to use the current batteries for an extended period of time. The potential use of tracking with nanotechnology on shipping products also reduces hefty fees associated with lost goods.
Nanotechnology has the capability of revolutionizing the shipping industry in a variety of different ways.
While the listed examples are in their infant stages in terms of development and research, they do show potential for amazing usage in the industry. And the results that have been observed clearly shows how far we’ll get in a couple of decades with this type of technology.
It’s hard to predict what the future will look like, but chances are, things are going to be significantly different within a decade or two, with the use of nanotechnology.
Adel-Alexander Aldilemi is a content writer at Valuer.Ai. He considers himself an avid traveler, as he has lived across two continents and is currently studying humanities at Copenhagen University.