How Tiny Bubbles Led to a $28 Billion Cost Savings

Each year, over 50,000 large vessels travel the oceans to move people and cargo through the turbulent seas. While a solid ship gliding through malleable water should be… well… smooth sailing, it turns out that intersection between vessel and water is anything but smooth. As the giant metal structures plow through the ocean, friction and drag are expensive obstacles to overcome. To conquer these hostile conditions, the average ocean liner burns over $7.5 million in fuel each year, which helps neither the environment nor the bottom line.

Enter Noah Silberschmidt, founder and CEO of UK-based Silverstream Technologies. Working to reduce the friction, the company invented a device that can be retrofitted onto existing vessels to create small bubbles that are blasted into the water from the front of ships. These bubbles essentially create an ‘air carpet’ for the ship to ride upon, which reduces fuel consumption by up to 10%.

When we tackle big problems, we often think that only enormous solutions will do the trick. To boost fuel efficiency on a massive ship, we’d obviously need to create a more aerodynamic hull, swap out gigantic engines, or move to a renewable source of power. Yet a tiny bubble, less than one millimeter in diameter, has the power to transform the performance of a 780-foot, 30,000-ton behemoth.

Instead of thinking big when trying to solve challenges or seize opportunities, try thinking small. Micro-innovations (or Big Little Breakthroughs as I like to call them), turn out to be less risky, less costly, and often more effective than their swing-for-the-fences counterparts. The largest innovations, in fact, can be discovered in the smallest ways.

If Silverstream’s air lubrication system was embraced globally, those 50,000 ships would consume 9.3 billion fewer gallons of marine fuel, saving the industry over $28 billion while preserving our environment. Massive results from tiny bubbles.

In your own business, what tiny bubbles can you discover to reduce friction, accelerate growth, and fuel sustainable success? Instead of wild moonshots, let’s consider how small, everyday innovations might add up to the biggest outcomes we desire.

While transformational innovation may seem out of reach due to cost, timing, and risk, micro-innovations are within the grasp of us all. When we build our own ‘air carpet’ of tiny creative ideas, our ships go faster and farther, helping us safely reach the destinations we seek across the horizon.