Australian researchers will test an anti-fouling coating that can take up copper from seawater and release it using electrical pulses to prevent organic growth on hulls
Fungicide paint, a common anti-fouling coating, releases copper into the water to kill off organic growth like algae and barnacles from ship surfaces. But this has led to environmental concerns about the levels of copper in the water in harbours around the world.
Alternatives such as silicon-based coatings are effective at removing organic growth when vessels reach a certain speed but are expensive and ineffective at preventing build-up on vessels docked in port.
Researchers at Flinders University have spent four years developing a chemically engineered carbon-based coating that can draw copper ions from seawater and release them using electrical pulses. A second coating that uses only electrical pulses to remove fouling will also be tested.
Flinders University researcher Professor Mats Andersson explained the process. “You wait for it to take the copper up from seawater and then you stimulate it with electricity to release the copper, then you take it up again and release it so it is a closed cycle,” adding “When the copper is released it kills the organisms forming on the hull of the ship.
Professor Andersson stressed researchers were unsure of the length of each cycle and this too will be tested to establish the optimal length time.
Though the technology is still in the prototype stage Professor Andersson said the final product had global potential if it reaches full commercialisation.
He said “It is a big market because it is still a major problem,” adding “The discussion around the problem has been going on for 10-15 years but there have been no good or realistic solutions.”
The project will conduct a series of sea trials over the next 12 months and is led by Flinders University in collaboration with the University of South Australia, ASC Shipbuilding and the Australian Department of Defence.
The project is partially funded by a grant through the South Australian Government’s Defence Innovation Partnership with an eye towards potentially using the coating as part of its A$50Bn (US$34.3Bn) plan to regenerate the Royal Australian Navy.
This includes constructing nine Hunter-class frigates and 12 Attack-class submarines to be built at the Osborne Naval Shipyard in Adelaide, Australia. The yard itself is undergoing a A$500M (US$343.7M) upgrade.