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Maritime Logistics Professional

Reducing the tight hold of the barnacle

Posted to On the waterfront (by on December 29, 2009

The race for new bio-fouling products is boosted by potential green gains in more ways than one

With the recent UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen bringing issues of ecological responsibility into sharp focus, there is a little-publicised pest in the shipping industry that’s helping to guzzle gallons of fuel, even though it’s entirely natural. 

Under the wider term of ‘bio-fouling’, organisms such as barnacles and adhesive surface biofilms wreak havoc to cargo ships and all types of large vessels as they cause significant levels of drag to the ship, dramatically increasing emissions and fuel consumption. 

A recent research project by the UNS Navy’s Office of Naval Research has highlighted the cost of this problem, both in terms of the financial and ecological impact. The study explains how the biofilms can increase drag by around 20 per cent (this is labelled ‘micro-fouling’) while barnacles, the natural pest of the sea that adheres to the hulls of vessels in huge numbers, can create an increase in drag of 60 per cent and reduction in speed of 10 per cent. This impact costs the US Navy alone $1bn a year in extra fuel and maintenance costs. 

The Climate Change Conference put great importance on the issue of fuel consumption and CO² emissions across various industries, with the shipping sector widely criticised for its use of particularly ‘dirty’ fuels and the lack of legislation compared to on-shore activities. Consequently, any product or service that’s dedicated to addressing the issue is gaining publicity, as well as being closely analysed to quantify the potential positive impact on the issue of bio-fouling and micro-fouling. 

One such product is the Intersleek 900, a fluoropolymer coating from global marine coatings company International Paint, which promises to create a smooth, slippery low-friction surface that makes it almost impossible for the barnacles to get a grip on the hull. 

This coating has already been widely appreciated across the shipping and naval industries worldwide, with many official operations such as the US and UK navies adopting the process for ships and reaping reduced emissions and drag of around six per cent. Of course, while this is certainly an improvement (and it helps to tick a green box at the Climate Change Conference, let’s not forget), six per cent is not enough. Better, but not enough. 

Consequently, coatings companies are working like crazy to be the next big thing. Getting your product adopted as the bio-fouling coating of choice is a huge money-spinner, with the added halo points of being good for the environment, so expect to see plenty of new ideas for banishing barnacles in 2010.