Researchers in Europe are working on a giant airbag for ships. Named the Surfacing System for Ship Recovery (SuSy), the inflatable device launches within 15 seconds of the accident and stabilises the vessel, giving both crew and passengers more time to evacuate.
The airbags are balloons reinforced with a synthetic fibre known as Kevlar and can be installed in the ballast water tanks or between the double hulls of the vessel, explains Olivia Solon at Wired UK. The balloons contain special cartridges made out of potassium nitrate, epoxy resin and rust that explode to inflate the balloons quickly.
Solon explains how it works:
When initiated, the gunpowder oxidises the resin, which then puffs into the balloons to quickly inflate them—the rust aids the explosion process. A second cartridge containing compressed air helps to cool the explosion so that it doesn't pose a risk to inflammable cargo.
Designing the device was quite a challenge, reports Wired. Its creators had to find not only the perfect material for the balloon, which needed to be super-flexible, not expensive and heat-resistant, but also the perfect combination of materials for the cartridges to work.
The SuSy can also be used to lift sunken ships and could prevent major disasters, including oil spills. The researchers have built a proof of concept, see how it works: