Biomimicry Student Design Challenge
Project image of The Air Ballast Biomimetic Cargo Ship
Photo of Team Dédale

Team: Dédale

Members: Alexander Grant, Naomi Eterman, Chloé Grison, Luke Matus, Laurie Bouchard, and Philip Zimny

McGill University, Montréal, Québec, CA

The Air Ballast Biomimetic Cargo Ship

2014 BSDC Finalist
Ballast water for stability and buoyancy in cargo ships has been widely used across many designs of cargo ship for decades. Now with over 90% of world trade being moved using these ships, the environmental effects of using ballast water have become apparent: the transportation of invasive species in ballast has caused billions of dollars of damage to numerous ecosystems. We propose to switch the design paradigm of cargo ships to be designed for being empty as a base state, and to adjust for being full, where the opposite is true of the traditional design. Our design uses a series of inflatable compartments that are similar in principle to a swim bladder. They attach to the ship’s hull to provide lift countering the weight of the cargo, while still maintaining stability. The additive buoyant force provided by each compartment is equal to the total weight of the cargo, creating an adjustable system for stabilizing the cargo ship. It is an environmentally sustainable design that inflates to the same size and shape as a typical fully-loaded cargo ship. We required that the expandable part of the hull be able to inflate and deflate many times over the years, and for it to be strong enough to resist mechanical stresses. We turned to nature in search of materials and structures that would maintain the integrity of the ship’s buoyant compartments, and came up with our final design. We consulted Moana Lebel, the chief of Biomimicry Québec, and Dr. Anne-Marie Kietzig, Professor at McGill University in Biomimetic Surface Engineering.