The ultimate container ship by ylo13183


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The ultimate container ship
An entry for the “Strength in glass” competition from John
Towers, editor of Glass International magazine.

Have you ever tried to sink a glass bottle? How easy is it to get that
container, with its big hole at one end, to stay beneath the surface of the
You have to be very determined to persuade water to enter the bottle and to
keep entering it; to fill it; and to expel all the air within the bottle so that the
bottle can sink. Not without reason did the concept of the message in a bottle
become known, even in legend, as a traditional method of emergency
communication by stranded mariners.
Now imagine that the glass we use is 50 times stronger, and potentially a
good deal lighter in weight, than that used in the glass bottle you use today
to hold your beer, whisky or iced tea. Imagine that the hole is smaller than
the hole at the top of the bottle. How easy would it be to sink this glass
My proposal for the use of glass that is 50 times stronger than that used at
present would be to build ships from it. A structure that is already difficult to
sink, the glass container, surely has tremendous potential for adaptation into
the ship- the ultimate container ship. Its inherent structure, added to by using
50 times stronger glass that is also much lighter than current glass, could
make a stupendous foundation for a seagoing vessel.
The main hull would be built not from sheets of glass, but would be
produced as though it were a huge glass container using forming technology
taken to enormous size and capability. Look at the shapes of glass bottles
being produced today on automatic forming machines; the pointed bows and
keel of a ship should be no problem for modern forming technology, let
alone for future forming technology. Forming equipment could be re-used
to produce several identical ships, and old ships could be just melted down
and used as cullet to make new ones. An option would be to take today’s flat
glass tempering and bending technology and to develop it to produce a
ship’s hull structure, but I think the hollow glass vessel would be the best
idea to take forward. The glass hull could be left transparent, or could be
coated using modern environmentally-friendly materials.
The forming process could also be used to make internal pipework, and
other necessities. Superstructures would be constructed from flat glass. Flat
glass that is resistant to hurricane-force winds, or to bomb blast or bullet
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penetration, is already available. What could flat glass that is 50 times
stronger than that currently available be able to withstand? Would a collision
with an iceberg sink a ship like this, as it did the ill-fated Titanic?
Internal walls could also be made from flat glass, tinted for privacy where
needed. Interior decoration on passenger versions of these ships could use
glass for staircases, corridor walls, and so on.
For military applications, a coating has been patented available containing
glass particles designed to help make combat aircraft invisible to
conventional radar. This could be adapted for the ships, to make them very
difficult to detect.
Semi-submersible or fully submarine versions could give tourist rides to
coral reefs, or be used to inspect undersea installations. With glass that is 50
times stronger than at present, and the inherent strength of a glass container
design, vessels used to travel underwater could potentially withstand much
greater pressure and so could sail much deeper than could conventionally
built submarines and submersibles. The main problem would be in getting
them to slip beneath the surface of the water; they might need an awful lot of
water ballast to persuade them to dive.
Internal partitions within the hull would be made from flat glass and could
be supported by glass girders; the technology for these is already available
and some are being used in the construction of architectural façades. The
stronger glass would also be used to help power the ships; photovoltaic
panels would enable sheets of glass to turn sunlight into electric power to
provide propulsion for the ships to move silently and with no pollution. We
could also use this stronger glass as material from which to make the
propeller and propeller shaft, perhaps even the rudder, that we need to keep
the ship moving in the right direction.
A silent warship would be difficult to detect on sonar, so making a silent
ship built from glass thereby rendering it very difficult to spot would make it
even less detectable. Civilian ships could include tinting technology within
the glass from which they were built that would make them very visible for
emergency or publicity situations. Their glass could also tint automatically
to keep out the sun, or to ensure internal darkness for times when passengers
want to sleep- the technology is already there.
These ships would be advantageous from the environmental point of view
too. They would take no more energy in their creation than would
conventional steel ships but would be largely recyclable as well as being
environmentally-friendly because of their self-produced electrical propulsion
system. For passenger use, even cabins deep in the hull could be naturally lit
thanks to the ship’s glass construction thereby helping save energy usage.
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The smoother surface of the glass, compared with the surface of the steel
used to make traditional ships, would enable glass ships to move more easily
through the water thereby again saving on energy usage. Any weight savings
over steel would also translate into more efficient vessels, able to carry more
payload further even on conventional fuel but capable of using very little
fuel at all thanks to their photovoltaic on-board power generation. The
photovoltaic technology would also be used to desalinate sea water, mainly
for non-drinkable water but in emergencies able to be drunk. That again
would help limit environmental effects.
Passenger versions of these ships could also use photovoltaic energy to
power air conditioning and heating and their superstructures could use low
emissivity glass to help save energy used for these purposes. Glass
decoration specialists and interior designers who specialise in glass usage
could be creative beyond their wildest dreams in furnishing the interiors, and
also exteriors, of passenger-carrying glass ships.
Freight versions of the ships might use their photovoltaic energy supplies to
refrigerate food cargo, or alternative to heat some cargoes, so again saving
energy and pollution. They could be built as bulk vessels or to carry
containers. Might we one day see governments troubled by threats of
terrorism and smuggling start to insist that freight containers be made of
I would envisage these vessels being manufactured by consortia of
shipbuilders, glass manufacturers, artists, technologists, engineers and
visionaries in the sort of venture that could take glass into entirely new and
exciting applications and markets as a material.

From John Towers, editor, Glass International.
Contact details;
Work: Westgate House, 120-130 Station Road, Redhill RH1 1ET, United
Kingdom; Tel +44 1737 855151. Fax +44 1737 855463. Email
Home: 20 Waddon Close, Croydon CR0 4JT, United Kingdom. Tel +44 208
686 0653. Email

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