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Tough tanker journey to secure niche market

Omni Tanker composites solution for corrosive chemical transport
Vision combined with investment in R&D has enabled Australian company, Evolution Tankers, to develop a revolutionary solution for corrosive chemical transport.

Called the Omni Tanker, and manufactured using carbon fibre composites with a seamless interior of polyethylene thermoplastic, the lightweight tanker has a high degree of chemical resistance suitable for a wide range of liquid cargoes. The interior has food grade compatibility and is also approved for the transport of Dangerous Goods including Class 8 corrosive liquids.

With prominent clients including Chemtrans, Coogee Chemicals, Toll and McColls and international patents secured, the manufacturer is entering the European market.

The Omni Tanker is the realisation of the vision of company founder Bill Rogers, who saw the need for lightweight, highly corrosive resistant tankers for the chemicals industry some 10 years ago.

The very durable, seemless thermoplastic liner within the tank compartments is produced using a patented process. Developed specifically to suit transport of Class 8 dangerous goods, the process allows strong adhesion between thermoplastics, including polyolefins, and thermosets.

The challenges
The concept of combining a seamless thermoplastic vessel with a fibre-reinforced surrounding structure was tested in small scale in 2006. Several different pathways were explored as a means to reliably achieve a strong and repeatable bond between these two incompatible materials, says OmniTanker Group Chief Technical Officer, Dr Luke Djukic. “At certain points along the research and development process, combining these different plastics, in polyolefins and thermoset vinyl esters and epoxies seemed impossible, however in late 2007 the first full-size prototype tank was developed and achieved Dangerous Goods approval for the transport of Class 8 corrosive liquids.”

The highly detailed design of the tanks is the result of many hundreds of hours of finite element analysis (FEA) with processes developed by the aerospace industry. “The use of carbon composites allows us to deliver lightweight structures with outstanding strength and fatigue resistance. Our sophisticated FEA-based structural optimisation processes, coupled with the design flexibility of the anisotropic carbon composites, allow us to tailor material properties based on directional load requirements,” says Dr Djukic.

“A lot of experience has been developed in the engineering team and the recent addition of ANSYS software to the analysis capabilities promises to deliver greater efficiency in design analysis.”

The solution
The shape of the Omni Tankers helps to achieve uniform stresses in the structure as well as a low centre of gravity for optimum safety and stability. The double wall laminate results in highly effective thermal insulation and additional safety in the event of impact while the liner can be washed out to carry different chemicals enabling the tanker to backload.

“The resultant product is a lightweight tanker with a highly effective thermoplastic interior chemical liner, which delivers the chemical transport industry greater fuel economy, payload capacity and flexibility of cargoes transported, leading to higher profit margins than those achievable with standard tankers,” says Dr Djukic.

The Omni Tanker comprises two compartments, each with volumes of 6,000 to 8,000 litres, with the chemical barrier of the non-structural thermoplastic liner reinforced with structural carbon fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP). The external shell of the tank is made from CFRP. A foam core connects the outer shell and the compartments.

A recent move from the traditional wet layup towards resin infusion for the CFRP large parts was introduced to increase the fibre volume fraction of the composites and reduce overall weight, increase production rate to meet customer demands while raising the standard of product quality and repeatability, says Dr Djukic.

Employing approximately 30 staff in management, engineering, composite tank production, metals fabrication, and trailer fit out, the company recently moved to a new, larger state-of-the-art manufacturing site in Smeaton Grange, south west of Sydney. It has over 5,000m2 of production space, multiple overhead gantry cranes and a dedicated research facility to support ongoing development – a far cry from the company’s beginnings with one laptop computer and a 200m2 manufacturing shed.

Opportunities in Europe
Managing Director Daniel Rodgers says: “The transport of corrosive chemicals in Europe is dominated by rubber-lined steel tankers, which are characterised by heavy tare weights and problems associated with the rubber lining. Being able to bring something game-changing to such a large market is very exciting. Over the past 18 months, we have started a commercial cooperation with the leading fuel tanker manufacturer in Germany to develop a suitable tank design and introduce the Omni Tanker to the European market.”

More information

Evolution Tankers – Omni Tanker