University Engineers Develop Anticorrosion Laser for U.S. Navy

University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor Yongfeng Lu (left) and doctoral student Lei Liu (right) pose with a portable laser designed by Lu that helps prevent and repair corrosion on aluminum-sided ships. Photo courtesy of Alyssa Amen/NUtech Ventures

An engineering team led by University of Nebraska-Lincoln (Lincoln, Nebraska, USA) professor Yongfeng Lu is scheduled to begin testing a laser system prototype that prevents and repairs corrosion on aluminum-sided ships. Lu’s laser heats targeted areas of the aluminum by strengthening the microscopic boundaries around nanoparticles.

Lu, a Lott distinguished university professor in Nebraska’s electrical and computer engineering department, has received support from the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research in the development of his anti-corrosion laser. After months of product development that made the laser more portable, as well as simpler and safer to use, Lu’s team won the bid to test the laser on board a fully operational Navy ship beginning this fall.

“We are dreaming of a ‘shipyard on a ship’ concept,” Lu said. “The upcoming test is a showcase for our technology and a final step. We’re excited to see the science lead to engineering improvements that add value to the real world.”

Several design refinements were made to make the laser suitable for use on a ship. For one, the laser generates its beam inside the fiber cord, which increases its effectiveness outside the controlled conditions of a lab. For another, the laser is light enough to be mounted on a camera tripod and can be manipulated via a small controller.

“We want our laser to work while a ship is in operation, because it reduces time and cost,” Lu said. “This also means we have to make our system very light, which is where other methods fall short.”

In addition, the laser’s operating system, which is contained in microchips, is user-friendly with about 30 pre-programmed “recipes” that control the laser’s wavelength, power, frequency, and other factors. In so doing, Lu said the team wanted “to minimize the burden to the user” by making the system “simpler than using a cell phone.”

While strong, aluminum ships are prone to corrosion and cracking when exposed to saltwater and sun for extended periods. In such scenarios, the ships must be returned to a shipyard for repairs, which expends valuable financial resources and manpower.

“This [laser system] technology has the potential to save the Navy millions of dollars in shipyard time, as well as lost sea time,” said Airan Perez, corrosion and control science and technology program officer at the Office of Naval Research. “As the Navy expands its fleet of aluminum-hulled ships, this technology will become increasingly important.”

A patent for Lu’s anti-corrosion laser was filed through NUtech Ventures, the university’s technology commercialization affiliate. Lu’s lab also included contributions from students ranging from high school to graduate school who work directly with lasers and learn how they modify surfaces at the nanoscale.

Source: Nebraska Today,