By Ryan Skinner (email)
In paradigm-changing shipping technologies, we swing from the ballistic (ballast water) to the futuristic. The idea of switching out steel with lighter stuff has been around for as long as ships have been built with steel. In the 90s and 00s, though, some ship design groups began making ground with unique composite materials.
Naturally, navies are leading the drive (what expense can the tax-payer not afford?). The US's latest destroyer class - Zumwalt - features a composite wheelhouse. Elsewhere, composite materials are being introduced wherever they are practical for cost and weight reasons. Some designs are more far-flung than others.
A leading Swedish research group has recently published final reports on composite materials in marine applications.
It's hard to beat steel in terms of price, flexibility and performance. It's pretty easy to beat in terms of weight, though, and this may matter in a world of peak-oil bunker prices.