The unsinkable ship: Instant foam-forming agents

Stena Line open innovation challenge

Main Content

Stena Line are seeking novel approaches to outfit their freight and passenger ships with temporary, lightweight buoyancy features that will limit the amount of sea water that can ingress into the ship when there is a hull breach, rendering the ship essentially unsinkable. 

More specifically, they seek to install a system that deploys a foam-creating substance in void spaces that instantly reacts with sea water to prevent further water ingress after a hull breach across multiple tanks. 

What's the challenge?

The companies comprising the Swedish-based Stena Sphere represent the one of the largest private shipping groups in the world. We are seeking solutions that can be applied to cargo and passenger ships that travel in all of the world’s oceans.

Ships are today are designed with watertight subdivided compartments in order to remain stable and buoyant in case of a multi compartment hull breach. These designs restrict the use of larger cargo spaces. If water ingress could be avoided or at least limited in these compartments, ships would be able carry more cargo. 

These compartments typically range in volume from 200-1000 m3, and are often dry and empty compartments. Our objective is to limit water ingress into individual compartments in case of hull breach by reducing permeability using temporary buoyancy elements.

Do you have the solution?

Stena is interested in solutions that go beyond conventional methods used in the marine industry today to provide permanent or temporary buoyancy in the event of a hull breach. 

For example, Stena would consider the use of powdered foaming agents or expanding liquid foam agents, similar to those used for building insulation, to partially fill a compartment and hold back the ingress of sea water.

Some practical considerations for retrofitting existing vessels include:

  • Any substance proposed must ensure crew and environmental safety
  • The system should be possible to test regularly, by attaching hose/extension and deploy outside the tank
  • The system should be an automatic, stand-alone, plug-and-play solution with pipes, sensors, and storage tanks in one unit
  • The system should only deploy in the tanks damaged by the hull breach
  • The system should be compact enough for a retrofit installation
  • Easy removal of buoyancy media after deployment.
  • Should work in water ballast tanks that may contain water and voids (empty tanks)

Evaluation criteria

Technical viability - Solutions proposed must be based on sound scientific principles and have laboratory or pilot scale data that demonstrate efficacy. The proposed solution should be able to provide sufficient buoyance in the case of the breach of multiple compartments simultaneously. A viable solution is anticipated to be one that can fill one or more tanks to 50-75% of their volume after breech of hull, stabilizing faster than the water’s ingress. The substance should be stable for 7 days in order to arrange salvage.

Scale-up potential - Solutions proposed must have a clear pathway to be applied on commercial ships. Solutions already practiced in marine markets have higher value. The ideal partner would be able to lead the design of full-scale systems, with expertise in foam chemistry and foam structural mechanics.

Costs - lower installation and maintenance costs have higher value.

Ownership - Solutions covered by patents have higher value. At a minimum, proposed solutions must not be prohibited by other patents in the field.

Killer issues - Solutions will not be considered if, in Stena’s opinion:

  • Installation and maintenance costs are prohibitive for broad application (target for installation cost is below 100,000 Euros per ship)
  • Proposals lack sufficient supporting laboratory or pilot scale data
  • Solutions don’t adhere to global maritime environmental or safety regulations

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