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VIDEO: Like nothing else on the water

It may not be pretty, but that's not the intention.

The Piranha, which completed sea trials this month, is a super-lightweight and fuel-efficient experimental vessel that Zyvex Technologies built at its facility north of Seattle.

Founded in 1997, Zyvex touts itself as the first molecular nanotechnology company in the world. Piranha is the company's first boat, although it has worked on a lightweight powder coating for go-fast builder Outerlimits and spars for sailboat builder J/Boats.

"Our chemists molecularly engineer better materials, and our designers and engineers make the world's strongest materials more useful," Lance Criscuolo, president of Zyvex Technologies, says in a statement. The company says its nano-enhanced materials are 40 percent stronger than metals, such as aluminum, and result in significant weight reduction and increased fuel efficiency.

"Metal boats have come a long way over the past 150 years, but it's only possible to reach new standards of performance using next-generation advanced composite materials," Criscuolo says.


Click play for a video of the Piranha sea trial.

The 54-footer weighs just 8,400 pounds because it is built with advanced carbon fiber infused with carbon nanotubes, according to the company.

After six months of testing, the Piranha completed its final sea trial April 1 - a 600-nautical-mile test off Washington and Oregon. Piranha consumed only 12 gallons of fuel an hour cruising at 25 knots, according to Zyvex, which estimates that a conventional aluminum or fiberglass boat of the same size would consume 50 gallons or more an hour at that cruising speed.

Powered by twin 315-hp "off the shelf" Yanmar diesels, Piranha can travel 2,800 nautical miles without refueling by company estimates(fuel capacity is not disclosed), and the vessel has operated in ocean conditions with waves exceeding 12 feet.

Although military contracts are on the front burner for Zyvex, Mike Nemeth, director of commercial and defense applications, sees the light weight of the company's proprietary carbon fiber material - and the fuel efficiency that can be achieved - migrating into recreational boating applications.

"We have been designing some [36-foot] vessels that could have more immediate civilian use," Nemeth says.

With initial sea trials complete, defense contractors are evaluating the Piranha for use as an unmanned platform in a variety of applications, including anti-piracy work, harbor patrols and oceanographic surveying.

"Our technology, demonstrated by the Piranha, is a great option for better maritime vessels, manned and unmanned," Criscuolo says. "There's nothing else on the water that has this combination of speed, efficiency, payload and range. More and more structures will be built with our nano-enhanced advanced composites, taking industries such as marine, defense and infrastructure to entirely new levels."

The company, whose products range from semiconductors to sporting goods, debuted its new vessel April 11 at the Navy League Sea-Air-Space Exposition near Washington, D.C.

East Coast boaters should keep an eye out for Piranha, as demonstrations for clients and testing begin in May off Miami for Customs and Border Patrol personnel. The vessel will be stationed in Norfolk, Va., for most of the summer, and a demonstration is scheduled off New York City in late July.