The U.S. Navy is developing a new waterproof coating for its ships. It’s long been the goal of the Navy to create a product that, when applied to a ship’s hull, would create a waterproof barrier of protection. Now, it’s one step closer to making this a reality.
Last month, the Navy announced plans to back a project by the University of Michigan to develop an omniphobic coating. The term “omniphobic” doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s waterproof. Rather, it means the substance is resistant to all liquids. Whether it’s water or oil, the coating will ward off liquids to protect ships’ hulls from damage.
Researchers from the University of Michigan say they’re exploring a massive database of chemicals and compounds to create the perfect omniphobic coating for ships. Rather than looking for a single chemical or compound, though, they are looking for the right combination of multiple chemicals and compounds. When used together, these ingredients should create an impenetrable layer of protection over the ship’s surface, preventing the intrusion of water.
The primary purpose of an omniphobic coating isn’t to prevent ships from taking on water and sinking. The Navy wants this coating so that its ships can travel farther and more efficiently. Once applied, an omniphobic coating would reduce friction against ships’ hulls, allowing them to glide more seamlessly through the water. Researchers say this could make ships more fuel efficient while allowing them to travel longer distances in the process.
“A significant percentage of a ship’s fuel consumption [up to 80 percent at lower speeds and 40-50 percent at higher speeds] goes toward maintaining its speed and overcoming friction drag,” explained Dr. Ki-Han Kim of the Office of Naval Research (ONR). “If we could find a way to drastically reduce friction drag, vessels would consume less fuel or battery power, and enjoy a greater range of operations.”
Of course, it’s doubtful this coating will be applied to all of the Navy’s ships. While the exact number remains unknown, reports estimate the Navy currently operates with roughly 400 to 450 active-service ships. This number includes both submersibles as well as surface-water ships like destroyers and aircraft carriers.
So, when can you expect to see an omniphobic coating on the Navy’s ships? Researchers from the University of Michigan say they are hoping to complete the project within the next two years. Whether or not that timeline changes, however, remains to be seen. In any case, it’s an intriguing project that will likely pave the way for new applications.