Research Team Looking for Composite Material to Replace Cast Iron

Inside the massive engines in the world’s largest ships are huge heat exchangers made of cast iron. For the first time, a new research project is looking for an inexpensive composite substitute for the classical iron components, which can cost vast sums to maintain.

Danish Vestas Aircoil and the Department of Engineering at Aarhus University have joined forces to create an alternative to heavy heat exchanger constructions, which for decades have been a central component in huge, turbocharged marine engines.

The aim of the project is to reduce the weight of endplates on the heat exchangers which, on the largest engines, can be several metres high and weigh hundreds of kilos.

We’re going into unexplored territory. Of course, today there are many alternatives to cast iron, but these are very expensive metal alloys. This is the first time anyone has tried to find a cheaper or corresponding composite solution, but it’s not easy, because the conditions are so harsh. Simon Heide-Jørgensen, industrial postdoc on the project

The materials will need to withstand, water, saltwater, vibrations, high pressure and high temperatures for many years whilst being comparable in price to the existing materials used.


There is plenty of financial incentive to find an alternative to cast iron. Today, a leak in the system means the engine has to be stopped and the plates have to be opened to find the fault. But the plates are so heavy that they require specialised personnel and tools. Which can be time-consuming and costly. At the same time, the ship is still costing thousands of dollars every day in downtime. Furthermore, cast iron does not work very well with saltwater, so today, to avoid rusting, the entire system is treated with expensive chemicals.

From here, the plan is to take the material forward, and hopefully, in the long run, create a lighter and stronger construction that doesn’t need the chemical treatment. The ComMEC project is being headed by Associate Professor Michal Budzik from the Department of Engineering, Aarhus University and R&D Manager Claus Hessler Ibsen from Vestas Aircoil.