Researchers in Germany have created a new anti-fouling paint which saves money as well as the environment
As anyone who has owned a boat can attest, a major annoyance are the barnacles, algae and muscles that quickly cover the hull below the waterline. These organisms cause ‘biofouling’, which damages the paintwork and increases the ship’s weight and flow resistance. This, in turn, causes greater fuel consumption and higher CO2 emissions. Protective paints can prevent this growth, but these can also release pollutants and toxic chemicals into the water.
Now, a research team with the Functional Nanomaterials working group at Kiel University, in partnership with Kiel spin-off Phi-Stone AG, have created an environmentally-friendly anti-biofouling paint. The paint, which recently won the Global Marine Technology Entrepreneurship Competition (MTEC), is made of a nano-polymer composite based on polythiourethane and specially-formed ceramic particles. The smooth surface of the composite makes it more difficult for marine organisms to attach to the hull, and the paint is easy to clean, saving money as well as the environment. According to Ingo Paulowicz, Phi-Stone board member, “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.”
The new paint was tested for two years on the ‘African Forest’, which travels back and forth from Belgium to Gabon. During the trial, marine organisms which grew on the hull were wiped off with a sponge. Phi-Stone is currently working on developing a spraying technique to apply the paint more easily over large areas. The Kiel anti-fouling paint joins other recent innovations in paints, such as a peelable paint capable of protecting most surfaces and a pavement paint that fights climate change. In what other ways might nano-materials be used to develop improved coatings?