Electrolysis-based anti-biofouling system keeps hulls clean


December 7, 2012

One of the test hulls, which had the electrochemical paint applied in select areas

One of the test hulls, which had the electrochemical paint applied in select areas

Marine biofouling is the process in which organisms such as barnacles problematically colonize underwater surfaces. When it happens to the hulls of ships, the vessels become less hydrodynamic, having to burn more fuel in order to move through the water. Although hulls can be coated with paint that kills the offending organisms, that paint also releases toxic substances into the surrounding water. Now, however, scientists from Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Mechanics of Materials have developed a more environmentally-friendly paint, that uses electrolysis to control biofouling.

The paint contains nanoscale electrically-conductive particles, and is applied over a non-conductive primer to isolate it from the ship’s steel hull. When the ship is docked (which is when most biofouling occurs), a weak electrical current is run through the paint. That electricity could come from a source such as an onboard photovoltaic panel, or land-based mains power.

Software is used to continuously interrupt the current or change its amplitude, the result being that the pH value of the paint’s outer surface is constantly changing – which the biofouling-causing organisms don’t like. In shipyard tests of the technology, hull patches coated with the paint reportedly remained much less colonized than untreated patches.

The researchers are now working on improving the technology, and hope that the paint could ultimately stand up to three to five years of use once applied.

It could perhaps be used in conjunction with other currently-experimental anti-biofouling coatings that contain bacteria-produced molecules, a veterinary medicine, and that mimic palm tree seeds.

Source: Fraunhofer

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth
1 Comment

As long as you don't lose any of the barrier coat as if you do you'll get a hole in the hull if of metal as 99% of ships are

Now most yachts, other boats under 60'/20m are made from FG and this might be excellent for them if one can keep the conductive paint working.. jerryd
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