Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Pykrete: Maritime Engineering Material of the Future?

First conceived as an alternative to steel which was then in increasingly short supply in constructing warships during World War II, is Pykrete really deserve the claim as the maritime engineering material of the future?

By: Ringo Bones

For those too young to remember the more esoteric events of World War II first hand, the only time we ever heard of Pykrete was probably in MythBusters when they tested out an ice-based composite material once seriously considered for maritime engineering construction – i.e. naval ship building – when steel was in increasingly short supply back in World War II. Usually made by freezing water with sawdust in suspension (14% sawdust by weight and 86% by water by weight), Pykrete takes up to 20 times longer to melt than ordinary frozen water and is slightly more than 30 times stronger than ordinary water ice and is even bulletproof.

This wonder material was originally invented by Geoffrey Pyke, a British journalist, part-time spy and full-time inventor in the UK Blue Sky Research Department. When Geoffrey Pyke invented Pykrete, the wonder material immediately got the attention of Lord Louis Mountbatten – the then chief of combined operations. Mountbatten then bought a specimen of Pykrete the size of a lunchbox to then UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Churchill was in his bathtub at the time when he summoned Mountbatten in and the specimen of Pykrete was accidentally dropped into the warm bathtub water. To Mountbatten and Churchill’s surprise, the Pykrete managed to stay solid for half an hour in the comfortably warm bathtub water.

Due to this demonstration, Pykrete was instantly promoted as a viable solution to the steel shortage of the Allied Nations during World War II in constructing large naval vessels – namely ultra-large aircraft carriers. Unfortunately, creating a fabrication plant to turn Pykrete into a fleet of naval vessels required more steel than a conventional aircraft carrier needs. Even if the Pykrete fabrication plants were located in the frigid reaches of the Arctic Circle. Despite of this, a 60-foot prototype Pykrete boat was built and it took almost a year to completely melt back into water and sawdust.