Future Submarines Could Self-Repair Cracks, Swinburne Research Suggests

The OceanGate Titan was a marvel of human engineering that met a catastrophic end on June 18th, 2023, claiming five lives. While detailed investigation is still underway, experts say the implosion was caused by a tiny crack that formed in the carbon fibre composite hull under the high-pressure environment.

Thanks to the work of Dr Nisa Salim from Swinburne University of Technology's School of Engineering, future submarines could self-identify microcracks and self-heal using a new kind of carbon fibre reinforced polymer composites.

"The structure would have the ability to self-sense stresses and defects and report them in real time. The material could even self-repair such micro-cracks in a matter of time. The concept is that materials can behave like a living organism where they can sense, respond and adapt immediately."

Dr Salim's research designs multifunctional composite structures inspired from nature. The material self-senses with graphene, a "magic" material to make fibres individual layers that act as a sensor and can give continuous information about the health of the composites in real-time.

And, if a crack occurs, it will self-heal. Users will get information real time while the submarine can power itself while it repairs.

"Our specialised polymer system can heal any microcracks itself by breaking and reforming chemical bonds via exchange reactions," Dr Salim explains. "By integrating self-sensing and self-healing functionalities into carbon fibre composites, we bring such materials to life and make them autonomous."

The team is also developing an invisible battery pack, rather using one that can take up about 30 per cent of the craft weight.

"We need such autonomous materials to stop catastrophic accidents from happening ever again. It's not science fiction, it's the future of technology and innovation".

The technical advancements of this research were recently demonstrated at The Innovation Pitchfest during the Indo Pacific International Maritime Exposition 2023.

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