Airbags for ships could prevent sinking in emergencies (Wired UK)


Airbags for boats could avoid situations like this


A team of EU-funded researchers has developed an air bag that
could save a ship from sinking in an emergency situation.

Drawing on technology already used to provide a submarine with a
boost of buoyancy in a situation of uncontrolled diving, the team
aimed to develop a stabilising inflatable device that could launch
within 15 seconds. The giant air bag — created by research group SuSY — is designed
to be used to stabilise capsized ships or lift sunken ones as well
as to offer up more time in an emergency to help evacuate people
and rescue hazardous cargo.

The system involves using Kevlar-reinforced balloons that could
be installed within the ship — either in ballast water tanks or
between double hulls. The team developed cartridges attached to
these balloons containing potassium nitrate — used in gunpowder –
as well as an epoxy resin and ferric oxide (AKA rust). When
initiated, the gunpowder oxidises the resin, which then puffs into
the balloons to quickly inflate them — the rust aids the explosion
process. A second cartridge containing compressed air helps to cool
the explosion so that it doesn’t pose a risk to inflammable

Reinhard Ahlers, managing director of maritime consultancy Balance, told that the
biggest challenge was finding the right material combination for
the gas production process. “We had the goal to produce a lot of
gas from the smallest cartridge we could get.” This involved doing
a lot of calculations to find the right formulation.

Other challenges were finding a good material for the balloon
that could handle the hot gas without being prohibitively expensive
and developing a fixing device for the balloons to attach to the
hull. “The balloons are installed under the ceiling of the double
hull to allow for inspection.” The team has developed a proof of
concept, but still needs to develop a control unit for the whole

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