Seeds inspire new artificial anti-fouling surface


July 3, 2011

The wooden hull of HMS Surprise is given a high-power wash to remove barnacles and other marine hitchhikers (Image: Glenn Batuyong via Flickr)

The wooden hull of HMS Surprise is given a high-power wash to remove barnacles and other marine hitchhikers (Image: Glenn Batuyong via Flickr)

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With marine biofouling on ship hulls increasing drag, which results in an increase in fuel consumption and therefore cost and pollution, the search has been on for a way to prevent fouling that is better than the environmentally damaging, toxic marine paints currently used. Taking inspiration from floating seeds, scientists from the Biomimetics-Innovation-Centre (B-I-C) in Germany have developed a promising new anti-fouling surface that is toxin-free.

The new surface is based on a seed from a species of palm tree that is dispersed by ocean currents. Suspecting that certain seeds may have specialized surfaces that gave them the ability to remain free of fouling to allow them to disperse further, the researchers floated seeds from 50 species in the North Sea for 12 weeks. At the end of the 12-week period, the seeds of 12 species showed no fouling at all.

"We then began by examining the micro-structure of the seeds' surfaces, to see if we could translate them into an artificial surface. The seeds we chose to mimic had a hairy-like structure," says Katrin Mühlenbruch, a PhD researcher at BIC. "This structure might be especially good at preventing fouling because the fibers constantly move, preventing marine organisms from finding a place to settle."

To create an artificial surface similar to the seeds, the researchers used a silicone base with fibers covering the surface. The new surface is currently being trialed by floating it in the sea. Ms. Mühlenbruch says that while the initial results are "quite good," there is still a long way to go.

Following on from the examination of the structure of the seeds' surface, the B-I-C researchers also plan to analyze the chemical composition of the seeds' surface to find out whether this adds to their anti-fouling properties.

"Our aim is to provide a new toxin-free and bio-inspired ship coating," says Ms. Mühlenbruch. "This would prevent environmental damage while allowing ships to operate efficiently."

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

Plant a seed, build a better gizmo

Richard Dicky Riddlebarger

Or just use sails... if increased drag is causing a greater consumption of oil or gas, then don\'t use oil or gas! (and still use this!) A return to wind-powered shipping MUST be right around the corner: especially for non-perishables...

Jeremy Nasmith

Hi Jeremy. The while sailing is great the problem is it is relatively slow, when there\'s no wind you wont move and you cannot sail directly into the wind (45 degrees either side of the wind at the minimum)

Zak Kelly

If anything, we\'re more likely to see wind assisted cargo ships, using kites or sails. Still gonna have an engine, but better efficiency.


This is a development of the antialgae properties of Lotus leaves that rest on the surface of ponds.

Their underside has millions of hairy filaments which stops algae and other microorganisms from growing on it.

Nothing new that nature hasn\'t already done... :))

Stuart Halliday

\"Nothing new that nature hasn\'t already done... :))\"

But this precisely the point. We are not trying to recreate nature but steal it\'s best ideas to our own advantage. Nature does it so well that just maybe we could learn a few lessons.

Looking forward to the results as so far, the jury is still out on most attempts at natural antifouling mechanisms.

Emma Forsey

How come there are seldom follow-up articles on subjects like this one. A year ago the researchers were hot on the trail of an important discovery and now?????

Richard Chesher
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