From science fiction to science fact

01 Oct 2004

As one of five strategic programmes in DNV Research, nanotechnology is a new area of high interest and relevance for the classification society. "We?ve been aware of this for at least two or three years but we started looking at it in earnest this year due to some internal reorganisation," says Jan Weitzenböck, research programme director at DNV. He explains that if you want to change the focus sometimes you have to get new people, which is why it has been a long and drawn out process. In April this year DNV employed two new researchers with the right background to help start research into nanotechnology. Because of the enormous amount of funding available some stories about nanotechnology read like science fiction. "We are trying to get in at the lower end of this long scale and trying to look at things that will give us benefits or will be useful not in 20 years but in, say , five years," he explains. Coatings are a good example where you can achieve results within a few years, not decades. DNV is currently in the process of defining its research priorities.

There is a lot of scope for potential use of nanotechnology and DNV is not looking at shipping but at the offshore sector where it is particularly strong. He told The Motor Ship, "we are trying to find topics which are hopefully relevant to many business areas, not just one , and then set in motion some research project together with some research organisations in Europe and other parts of the world ? also with those who are going to use it because I think that is where we really come in." He doesn?t see DNV having a big nano-lab and sees the classification society as much more like the mediator between the research community and basic research at universities and research institutes and those going to use the technology. "It is part of our role as a third party ? especially in shipbuilding where we already have a third party role," says Weitzenböck. He believes that if DNV suddenly start owning a materials process it would be in conflict with a classification societies normal role.
He points out that there are no nanotechnology companies ? there are just people and companies that use nanotechnology to make products. "I think that is where we really want to come in ? for example in new coatings where they are coating against corrosion protection with perhaps some self cleaning properties ? I think it is quite a complex process because to use it on a ship you will probably have to change some current working practices and at the same time work to ensure that the application process is robust enough that you can actually do it in the shipyard, "says Weitzenböck. Somebody needs to explain the requirements to the research community and at the same time help ship designers and shipbuilders to utilise the potential of such technologies. He is reluctant to commit DNV to a specific technology area but told The Motor Ship that coatings are of particular interest as there are some new coatings that give very interesting properties. DNV are looking at a specific area of development, which he says has been sent to the commission and "we are awaiting the outcome of the evaluation."
Titanium oxide
He did not want to give too much away until it has been accepted but was willing to say that it utilises titanium oxide particles to achieve a self-cleaning and a self disinfecting surface. Weitzenböck explains that it is a
technology that has been used in Japan for a few years, "so it is not science fiction but something you can buy". The titanium oxide particles are nanoparticles and give some very interesting properties.
They are also relatively simple to integrate into an existing process and DNV hopes that the surface could be used on cruise ships where the spread of viruses has become quite a big headache. He told The Motor Ship, "you have 25 to 30 cases each year where you have a major outbreak so, if you had a surface that would disinfect or clean itself using some form of light as an energy input I think that would be a big help because it is all about controlling these frequently touched surfaces such as tables, handrails etc".
That is just one example and others include the treatment of ballast water.
"We see some potential for new filters to treat the water and remove bacteria such as E.coli ? but also for measuring the quality of ballast water being discharged," he explains. He says that will also be a challenge as you are not just talking about a few litres of water but many thousands of tonnes of water that has to be discharged fairly quickly.
A lot of work will be done by technology transfer, as the shipping industry is a very conservative business says Weitzenböck. Unless the technology has been proven in the automobile or building industries it will be difficult to introduce it. DNV doesn?t just want to look at the benefits of utilising this type of technology but wants to look at the risk-based side as well.

"The question is whether a company such as Det Norske Veritas can contribute to this discussion but our background in risk management should give us a good starting point in that discussion," says Weitzenböck. Many people ask whether nano particles are the next asbestos and using some established risk evaluation or hazard
evaluation methodologies will help in that process ? but it is too early to
say whether DNV want to go down
that route.
If you compare the shipping industry with the car industry there are very few big players or activators so there needs to be some sort of collaborative research efforts to make advances. He points out: "we don?t have anyone like General Motors, which has its own research programme and has used nanotechnology to increase the toughness of polycarbonates and window panes." That could be something that is also of interest to the shipping industry. He says another example is Mercedes, which is using a clear top coating on most of its cars to enhance the scratch performance, so that the paint retains its gloss much longer. Improved wear resistance on coatings would also be of interest to the offshore and shipbuilding industries.
He explains: "I am a researcher and I get excited about new technology developments but for a cruise operator to get interested there has to be a very clear benefit and that has to be a financial benefit so that will be the real test of the usefulness and whether you find acceptance for such technology".
There are certainly some interesting developments ? the challenge is to take it from the laboratory to a real product that offers real benefits ? perhaps to take the research from science fiction to science fact. n

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