Timon Singh

Tiny Aerogel Boat Runs for an Hour on Just a Drop of Ethanol!

by , 06/20/12

aalto university, aerogel boat, aerogel, ethanol, ship design, commercial shipping, ethanol fuel, robin ras

A scientist from Aalto University in Finland has created a tiny aerogel boat that is able to run for over an hour when powered by a single drop of ethanol. Robin Ras‘ creation builds upon the principle of soap boats, which are able to run on a few drops of washing up liquid – however Ras and his colleagues have made some modifications that could transform how ships are designed. Check out a video of the incredible craft after the jump!

While the principles can’t be applied to massive vessels like oil tankers, Ras believes that his system could be used to transport tiny devices across water. The speed of the tiny vehicle can also be altered by using different fuel types.

To conduct the experiment, 25 micro-liters of ethanol were placed on the back of the tiny aerogel boat. The vapor then diffused through the aerogel’s nano-cellulose membranes as it evaporated, lowering the surface tension at the boat’s rear. This created a difference in surface tension between the front and the back of the boat, causing it to be naturally pushed forward. Using this process alone, the craft was able to move by itself for about an hour.

Unfortunately, due to the cost of aerogel and the difficult construction process, the experiment cannot be replicated on a large scale – there is no way to implement it in large-scale frigates because they would cost an astronomical amount and aerogel’s durability is nowhere near tough enough to cope with environmental challenges such as icebergs.

However the team’s experiment could help ship builders change the design of certain vessels to make them more aerodynamic and reduce their fuel consumption. Considering that commercial shipping contributes to a large portion of global emissions, that’s a great start!

+ Aalto University

Via New Scientist

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