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Wednesday, January 8, 2020 

Aquatic species carried by ships’ hulls and which present environmental problems for regional ecosystems could be prevented with a new hull coating under development by researchers at Flinders University.

Scientists at the Australian university’s Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology have received a AUS$150,000 State Government grant to develop and test coatings capable of preventing biofouling growth using chemically engineered carbon-based coating to draw copper ions from sea water and then release them using electrical pulses. 

Another coating using only electrical pulses to remove fouling will also be tested. The new coatings will be tested in seawater, with DNA testing of marine organisms to verify the ability of the coatings to kill biofouling organisms.

In an article published in The Lead, a South Australia new outlet, Flinders University Professor Mats Andersson said: “You wait for some time 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. When the copper is released it kills the organisms forming on the hull of the ship.”

He furthered: “We don’t know if it is as effective yet but we have seen it in small trials in fish tanks in the lab and it seems to work.”

While the potential of the coating to prevent biofouling is of interest given that some countries have now introduced strict biofouling rules, the use of copper in antifouling paints is falling under increasing scrutiny.

Although a number of countries are considering banning its use in hull coatings, to date only the state of Washington in the US has legislated to phase out copper-based paints for recreational boats by 2021. In 2018, California set a maximum leach rate for copper-based antifoulings in boats operating in its waters.

Pictured are project leaders Professor Mats Andersson and Associate Professor Sophie Leterme, who lead a research group Flinders Biofilm Research and Innovation Consortium (or BRIC).

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