While most people don’t see them, barnacles, algae, and mussels latch onto boat hulls and have been a headache for the shipping industry to deal with for centuries. These little creatures create significant issues by adding to the vessel’s weight. They also create drag, so ships have to use more fuel or energy to cut through the water.
To combat this problem, shipping companies have been using special paints to help keep the tiny army of marine organisms at bay, but that approach often comes at a price as those special paints can pollute the ocean. To find an ideal solution, a team in Germany came together to create a non-toxic paint that keeps organisms off the hulls by making it harder for them to latch on. The result is a win-win solution for the environment and the shipping industry for a few reasons.
Improved fuel efficiency is one of the most important advantages the new paint offers. For the environment, more fuel-efficient ships mean fewer carbon emissions are released into the environment. For the shipping industry, having to use less fuel to move their ships is a substantial financial saving.
Ingo Paulowicz, Board Member of Phi-Stone, one of the teams that worked on this new product spoke to just how much those savings could add up, “We estimate that biofouling increases the amount of fuel ships use by up to 40 percent. This costs the world’s transport industry over 150 billion US dollars per year and causes unnecessary environmental pollution.”
From an environmental perspective, this paint is a step up from other protective boat paints because it has no solvents and doesn’t release pollutants. Other paints often contain copper and have the tendency to pollute the ocean by releasing toxic substances. Paulowicz emphasized the significant impact of harmful paints on the environment when he explained that, “Every year around the world, 80,000 tonnes of so-called anti-fouling paints are now being used. This costs around 4 billion dollars per annum. Not to mention the cost to the oceans.”
The shipping industry benefits from the new paint’s properties because it saves maintenance time when removing barnacles from the haul since the creatures can’t latch on well and can now be simply sponged off. The paint also lasts longer and doesn’t have to be touched up as often since organisms aren’t attaching to the paint and destroying it.
The team behind this new coating solution is Kiel University and Phi-Stone AG. Scientists from both groups collaborated to find a way to improve the elements behind protective boat paints. They successfully tested the paint for over two years on a ship called “African Forest” which operates between Belgium and Gabon in central Africa.
So far, the eco coating has already won the Global Marine Technology Entrepreneurship Competition and is running full steam ahead with improvements. The company is now focused on creating a spraying technique to can apply the paint easily over large areas.