Nanotechnology making yachts greener
by Richard Boggs
Among the fast-growing applications of nanotechnology in yachting is the use of metallic oxide fuel additives to reduce production of diesel exhaust soot and to reduce fuel consumption.
A very small amount of cerium oxide nanoparticles is introduced to the fuel where it becomes evenly dispersed. When the fuel is burned, the cerium nanoparticles transport oxygen from oxygen-rich areas of the cylinder to oxygen-poor areas, thereby providing much more complete combustion and greatly reducing soot production and fuel consumption.
Cerion Energy has used this technology to produce its GO2 Diesel Fuel Optimizer. In 2011, it conducted independent third-party testing of the additive on two superyachts and the results are significant.
Big Fish, a 45m expedition-style yacht, showed an 11 per cent improvement in fuel economy and a 20 per cent reduction in soot. Observed on the 62m motor yacht Apogee were a 14 per cent improvement in fuel economy, a nine per cent reduction in soot, and a 20 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
Titanium dioxide, the substance that makes white paint bright and adds blocking power to most sunscreens, has another remarkable property: it’s a photocatalyst.
In the presence of moisture and the sun’s ultraviolet light, titanium dioxide nanoparticles catalyse, or break down, some of the water to produce oxygen radicals (oxygen atoms with an extra electron or two), which are very effective in destroying organic materials such as dirt, bacteria, oil and other naturally occurring contaminants.
What this means is deck furniture fabric treated or manufactured with titanium dioxide nanoparticles can’t be stained by sunscreen and won’t transmit odours.
Although barely on yachting’s radar, nanotechnology in energy production and storage is looming large in terrestrial applications.
The most promising and, to date, practical battery chemistry is lithium-ion polymer technology, whose advantages include very high energy density, low weight, high-power output, fast recharge and discharge without the memory effect.
As good as lithium-ion batteries are, nanotechnology promises to improve their performance exponentially. A good lithium-ion battery can provide around 400 charge/discharge cycles before its capacity drops to about 80 per cent of its maximum capacity.
In a marine application, such as a large yacht which depends on a battery for propulsion and hotel power, that might mean a short and very expensive lifespan. But the performance of a lithium-ion battery depends on the surface area of its plates, and a polymer electrode comprising nano-sized lattices can hold an enormous amount of active material compared to conventional plate materials.
This means that batteries in the near future may be capable of up to 40,000 cycles when the technology developed by Stanford University researchers is commercialised.
As yachts become larger, we can look to the smallest man-made components to provide enormous improvements in efficiency, performance and reduction in maintenance. Future superyachts might be fuelled by natural gas stored in nanoparticle-reinforced tanks, to produce electricity stored in a next-generation battery. And all will be fitted in a hull that slides effortlessly through the water, leaving no toxins in its wake.