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Advanced Fibre-Reinforced Composites Pivotal to Marine Sustainability

By: , Posted on: April 29, 2016


The world population is expected to be over 11 billion by 2100, so there is a desperate need to live more sustainably on the only planet available to humankind. If we have 150% population accessing finite resources, then on average there will be only 67% of the resources available for each person! I’m a Life Member of Population Matters because I do not expect a thermodynamic breakthrough that will address the forthcoming resource (water, food, fuel, feedstock) scarcity issue. The Brundtland Commission Report (1987) defined sustainability as “Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. I’m not sure we are currently on the right path!

Composites, especially sandwich structures, can reduce the weight of land, sea and air transport systems and hence save fuel and reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Unfortunately, rather than achieving that goal, vehicles are getting larger and the potential gains from weight reduction, and consequent reductions of carbon dioxide emissions, are however being lost to greater comfort.

Since the middle of the twentieth century, the use of fibre-reinforced polymer matrix composites in the seas and oceans has grown in both component/structure size and numbers. The Boat DIGEST project found that 95% of 7 million pleasure boats were built of fibre-reinforced plastic composites.

The marine environment is challenging for traditional engineering materials due to corrosion of metals or for natural materials due to other degradation routes. Composites have repeatedly demonstrated good performance and durability, such that many technologies and developments would not exist without their use. This may be especially relevant to seabed marine renewable energy devices where operators would like to position devices for 25-30 years without the need for, and high-costs of, regular maintenance and repair visits.

In 1998, the sandwich structure Cable & Wireless Adventurer powerboat broke the world record for circumnavigation of the globe in a motor-powered vessel having covered the 24500 nautical miles in 74 days 20 hours, spending some 62 days at sea. The average speed achieved was 16.5 knots and the average fuel consumption about 1 mpg (4.5 litres/nm). On 7 February 2005, Ellen MacArthur in the carbon fibre composite trimaran B&Q Castorama became the fastest sailor (no assistance from engines) to complete a solo non-stop circumnavigation of the globe in 71 days, 14 hours and 18 minutes.

Composites are finding extensive use in the marine environment with applications including marine renewable energy systems, offshore oil and gas exploration and exploitation (OGEE) structures, dock infrastructure, submarines and submersibles, lifeboats, naval vessels, fast ferries, power-boats, yachts, sterngear (propellers and rudders), rigging: (wing-)masts and sails, canoes, kayaks, surfing and fish farms.

We edited a book, being a compilation of chapters from recognised experts, to address the state-of-the-art in marine composites. The first part of the book considers manufacture of monolithic or laminate composites and sandwich structures, mechanical behaviour including the effects of moisture, deep submergence and fracture and failure modes, then non-destructive testing (NDT) and structural health monitoring (SHM). The second part of the book addresses applications in marine renewable energy, the offshore oil and gas industry, underwater repair, and sails and rigging. There is also a chapter which considers the disposal of end-of-life boats.

For a limited time you can read Chapter 7 Nondestructive testing and structural health monitoring of marine composite structures

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Marine Applications of Advanced Fibre-Reinforced Composites is available now on the Elsevier store. Enter STC215 at the checkout to save up to 30% on your own copy!

About the Author

John Summerscales has a passion for composites, and a clear preference for the single word description given that even simple laminates stray from the definition of materials and become structures. He was a founding member of the Advanced Composites Manufacturing Centre (ACMC). He is Associate Professor (Reader) in Composites Engineering at Plymouth University where he is the pathway leader for BEng/MEng (honours) Mechanical Engineering with Composites. He is a Chartered Engineer, Chartered Environmentalist and Chartered Scientist.

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Materials Science

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