One of the main challenges faced by the shipping industry is the quick covering of the ships’ hulls by marine organisms such as algae, barnacles, or muscles and the subsequent deterioration of their paintwork.
The familiar phenomenon known as “biofouling” raises the weight of ships and also their flow resistance, resulting in increased fuel consumption and emissions of CO2. To prevent their growth, protective paints are chiefly used across the globe. The protective paints include and emit pollutants.
A team of scientists from Kiel University and the Phi-Stone AG, one of the university’s spin-offs located in Kiel, have worked in close collaboration to create a coating that is environmentally friendly. This coating inhibits the growth of marine organisms on the hulls and enables easy cleaning of the ships. The innovative strategy has recently been awarded an international prize for ingenious marine technology and beat contenders from three continents.
This project from the field of nano-technology is a great example of transferring innovation from Schleswig-Holstein, whereby findings from basic research are brought into industrial application. We, as a university, want to solve existing problems using innovative ideas. In order to do so, this requires a working dialogue between science and companies.
Professor Karin Schwarz, Vice President of Technology Transfer, Kiel University
Around 40 percent higher fuel consumption due to biofouling
“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,” stated Ingo Paulowicz, Board Member of Phi-Stone, one of the spin-offs of Kiel University.
Furthermore, cleaning and maintenance is greatly increased with respect to removing the barnacles and other such organisms stuck to the hulls and then repainting again. A number of prevalent protective paints have hitherto been prohibited due to their immense polluting consequences, including organotin paints such as tributyltin (TBT). It is anticipated that copper-based compounds will be banned in the upcoming year, which will dramatically raise the requirement of environmentally friendly and highly durable coatings for ships.
Longer-lasting and more environmentally-friendly
The coating created by the close cooperation between the researchers from Kiel University and Phi-Stone is not only environment-friendly but also durable. The product avoids the need for solvents and emits no pollutants into the waters, in contrast to the predominant self-polishing coatings comprising of copper, which get slowly discarded as the ship sails in the waters and constantly emits hazardous substances. The smooth surface of the innovative coating created at Kiel prevents the marine organisms from sticking to the hulls and deteriorating the paintwork.
This means that the bio-corrosion-resistant paint lasts longer and barnacles or muscles can be brushed off quickly and easily.
Dr Martina Baum, Technical Biologist from Professor Rainer Adelung’s Functional Nanomaterials working group
Baum collaborated with her then-doctoral researcher, Materials Scientist Iris Hölken, and analyzed the growth-reduction characteristics of a polymer composite containing polythiourethane (PTU) and specially formulated ceramic particles. They enhance the mechanical characteristics of the coating and the paint’s potential to stick to the ship’s surface. Both the researchers partnered with Phi-Stone AG to develop the material as well as the coating procedure. “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,” stated Phi-Stone Board Member Paulowicz, underscoring the extent of environment-friendly substitutes.
Successful technology transfer through collaboration between Kiel University and Phi-Stone AG
The team of scientists from Kiel University and Phi-Stone AG investigated the new product by collaborating with companies based in Schleswig-Holstein, at first on ships inside the water tanks at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel. “These tests went very well,” stated Baum. “We were able to determine significantly less growth after two years on the ‘African Forest’, which travels from Belgium to Gabon in central Africa. This was then easy to clean off with a plain sponge.” Dr Iris Hölken, who at present has finished her doctoral studies, has planned to carry on with this concept as the scientific head of the project at Phi-Stone. At present, the company is striving to create a spraying method using which the coating can be easily spread and over wider areas.
International award for innovative marine technology from Kiel
Phi-Stone AG, one of the spin-offs of Kiel University, was victorious at the Global Marine Technology Entrepreneurship Competition in November due to its environment-friendly coating for ships. In total, 120 teams participated in the qualifying rounds in Paris, London, Shanghai, or at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston. In the qualifying round in Germany held at the end of October in Kiel, Ingo Paulowicz, Board Member of Phi-Stone, and Haoyi Qiu, a staff member who will be soon completing his doctoral degree from Kiel University, triumphantly presented their idea of environment-friendly coating at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel. In the finals held in Qingdao, China, they beat the strong contenders from three continents.
The goal of the competition, organized by Shandong University and the city of Qingdao, is to encourage novel marine technology and further the contacts to the Chinese market. The first prize comprises US$70,000 as well as additional funding on site. “We are extremely pleased to have won such a major global competition on maritime innovation,” stated Paulowicz, graduate from Kiel University. “We definitely want to keep our company in Schleswig-Holstein, but are excited about the extra possibilities that the Chinese market can offer us.”
It’s great that this idea was developed in exchange with companies and that we were thus able to transfer it from the lab to the ship. It is a great achievement for us as a university, but also for the state, if ideas from Schleswig-Holstein are also convincing at the international level in this way.
Professor Rainer Adelung, Head of the working group at Kiel University