The European Union recently announced a €600,000 ($746,000) grant to a Croatian company developing a new technology for making maritime repairs using composite materials. The European Commission Horizon 2020 research program will be working with As2con to produce a way to repair broken vessels more safely, more quickly, and more cost-effectively.
Reports out of Croatia say the company has come up with a unique technology that makes it possible to repair vessels using a carbon fiber reinforced thermoplastic material. The material can be applied both on-board and in shipyards without the use of cutting torches and welding. More importantly, the material can be applied in locations that are difficult to reach or would present geometric problems for steel patches.
As2con was apparently among just 6% of the companies applying for grants to actually receive funding. Now they hope to prove the worthiness of their technology through both laboratory and on-board tests that eventually lead to certification and licensing.
Advantages of Carbon Fiber Repairs
Repairing damaged vessels using traditional cutting and welding is a time-consuming and dangerous process. Ships have to be put in dry dock where workers manually cut away damaged sections of the hull so that they can be replaced with steel patches. Those steel patches are welded into place.
The process is time-consuming simply because it takes a while to get the ship into dry dock and cut away damaged steel. It also takes time to cut and shape the metal used for the patch. Depending on the severity of the damage, a ship can be taken completely out of commission for an inordinate amount of time.
The carbon fiber solution saves time by eliminating the cutting and welding processes. Carbon fiber patches can be applied in place, in a fraction of the time necessary for cutting and welding. Most importantly, there is no loss of integrity with a carbon fiber repair. The repair material is stronger, more rigid, and lighter than steel.
As carbon fiber repairs are faster, they also save money in the long run by getting damaged vessels back out to sea more quickly. So while the actual cost of the repair may be slightly more, the end result is a reduced overall cost by way of increased production.
Carbon Fiber a Natural Replacement
At Rock West Composites in Salt Lake City, Utah, carbon fiber sheets are among the many composite materials the company deals in. They say carbon fiber is a natural replacement for steel in maritime repairs because of its demonstrable strength, rigidity, and resistance to corrosion.
A damaged vessel repaired with a steel patch is at risk of reduced integrity due to the corrosive nature of seawater. That means a steel patch has to be continually monitored. Carbon fiber is resistant to corrosion. As such there is less risk of future problems at the site of the repair. This is yet another benefit of using carbon fiber materials to make maritime repairs.
As2con hasn’t publicly released a timeline for getting their revolutionary technology licensed for worldwide use. But you can bet company engineers will be working hard throughout the testing and certification phases. They are confident they have a product that regulators will approve of once testing is complete.
As for why the EU is investing in this technology, everything you have read in this article provides the explanation. EU regulators view the As2con technology as safer, faster, and more cost efficient compared to traditional maritime repair. They are willing to invest hundreds of thousands of Euro in what they believe will eventually replace traditional repair methods.