The new unmanned vessel by Zyvex Technologies of Columbus, Ohio, named the Piranha, is not just another smooth boat ride on calm waters. When the 54-foot carbon nanotube (CNT) reinforced carbon fiber boat underwent testing in Washington’s choppy Puget Sound, the boat didn’t experience a planing effect, which is where acceleration lifts the front of the boat from the water and limits its effective top speed. This triumph sent Russell Belden, vice president of Advanced Composites Solutions with Zyvex Technologies, looking for choppier waters, including waves up to 12 feet high in the open ocean.

“Testing has gone very well, including rough ocean tests out in the Pacific,” said Mike Nemeth, head of commercial and defense applications for Zyvex. The boat cruised 600 nautical miles off the coast of Washington and Oregon and only consumed 12 gallons of fuel per hour travelling at 25 knots, despite rough waters. According to company data, a conventional aluminum or fiberglass boat would have used about 50 gallons of fuel per hour at that speed.

The Piranha boasts a range of 2,800 nautical miles at cruising speed, equal to 29 miles per hour, and has a top speed of 45 knots, or 52 miles per hour. Zyvex touts the vessel as a companion boat to guard merchant vessels against piracy, as a surveillance vessel to watch the coast for drug runners or terrorists, and as a rescue vessel to go out in severe weather. “In each instance, the unmanned vessel can be monitored to give it the same capabilities as a manned vessel without risking lives,” adds Belden. The Piranha can be launched from a larger ship or dropped from the air and can stay out on the water for 40 days and can carry a load of 15,000 pounds—a weight far exceeding the range and payload of existing drone vessels.

Zyvex Technologies, a spin-off of parent company Zyvex, is a molecular nanotechnology company originally based in Richardson, Texas. The company moved to Columbus, Ohio to concentrate on advanced materials. The new location allows Zyvex Technologies to connect with the Ohio composites manufacturing community and forge partnerships important to the growth of its products,” says Nameth.

The new division developed a process that binds carbon nanotubes to carbon fiber composites. “Carbon nanotubes aren’t necessarily a good actor with other materials,” Belden says. “They bond to themselves and reject the host matrix.” This new process makes carbon nanotubes compatible with an epoxy and the materials readily bond.