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Could dolphin skin hold the key to improving maritime fuel consumption?

Friction uses energy

Many arid countries around the world such as Australia and Libya rely on vast pipeline networks to transport water to areas where it is scarce. However, the resistance between the pipe walls and the flowing water causes friction, which means that huge amounts of energy has to be used to pump the large volume of water to its destination.

To address this, Dr Michael Templeton, from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Imperial, and Dr Andrew Wills, from the Department of Chemistry at UCL, aim to develop a new material that reduces this friction. They plan to mimic the special chemical properties and physical structure at the microscopic level of some of the most slippery surfaces in nature.

Dolphin skin

One of the surfaces that they are exploring is dolphin skin. Chemicals combine with tiny bumps on the animal’s skin to reduce the friction between the Dolphin and the water that it is swimming through. Similarly, the new material could have nanoscopic bumps, which will control the water flow, making it run more easily over the surface. It will also be coated with water repellent chemicals that will reduce the friction between water particles and pipe surface.

The expectation is that the new material will be in a form that could be applied to the inside of pipes, either as a material that lines the pipes or as a spray. The team believe that there may also be applications for this material in other industries that require long-distance transport of fluids, such as the oil and gas industry.

(Thanks to the NanoKTN for the original head's up on this. The original, full article can be found on the Imperial College site.)

Thinking beyond the transport of fluids, to transport through fluids....

As they move through water, friction between the hulls of ships and the water itself causes drag, and can account for at least 5% of fuel consumption.  It is interesting to speculate whether this dolphin-skin technology may have an application as a surface coating for ships hulls - reducing the drag would improve fuel efficiency, simultaneously reducing costs and CO2, NOX and SOX emissions.

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