Automatgenererad bild.

14 April 2014

Breakthrough for green antifouling paint

After many years’ research in the Marine Paint, the I-Tech company is now on the brink of a major break. Their product, which permits environment-friendly prevention of barnacle adhesion to ship hulls, is now approved for use in both Japan and South Korea. It may shortly be Europe’s turn.

Fouling of boat and ship hulls by marine organisms is a major problem. All leisure-craft owners are obliged to engage in frequent hard toil to remove barnacles and the like that have attached themselves below the waterline. For commercial shipping, however, the problem is even worse. To prevent barnacles and other organisms from adhering to hulls, the companies use paints containing up to 60% copper — a metal that cannot be recycled. Over time, this copper is released into the surrounding water where, instead of decomposing, it remains in the marine environment for ever. This makes antifouling paints one of the gravest threats to aquatic organisms.

The option of refraining from treating hulls is not a successful one either. For vessels with no protection against growth, increased vessel drag boosts fuel consumption by up to 40%. Given the fact that the world’s 100,000 freighters account for more than 3% of all the CO2 to which humankind gives rise, enhanced antifouling efficacy would have a direct influence on the climate.

Replacing copper-containing paints

In an attempt to bring about more ecofriendly methods of preventing organisms from colonising hulls (‘biofouling’), Mistra started the Marine Paint research programme in 2003. By the time the programme ended eight years later, the researchers had developed several promising solutions. The most important of these is a product that has undergone further development by the I-Tech company under the Selektope brand. This is not a ready-made marine paint but an active substance that established paint manufacturers can blend into their own antifouling paint products to reduce or exclude copper.

The active substance in Selektope is medetomidine, a preparation used in veterinary medicine that has previously been used mainly as a sedative for dogs and cats. Its effect on barnacles, on the other hand, is the opposite: it causes the larva legs to start kicking, which means that the creatures are unable to settle on the smooth hulls of ships and boats. Other advantages of medetomidine are that it is biodegradable and causes no damage either to barnacles or to other animals or plants. What is more, it is effective at very low doses over long periods. One gram of Selektope can replace 500 grams of copper, which means that the agent contributes to a more sustainable marine environment.

Fruitful long-term research

Lena Lindblad, head of research at I-Tech, says: ‘I-Tech was originally founded so that we could commercialise the research findings emerging from Marine Paint. After many years’ work, we’re now finally on the road to success.’

There have already been two key breakthroughs. For some time, Selektope has been approved for use in both Japan and South Korea. And several markets await: China is one of the countries that is expected to approve the preparation in the near future.

‘For every new market, we have to implement thorough investigations to show that our product will not adversely affect the country’s or region’s particular marine environment. To date, we haven’t suffered any setbacks in terms of either how well our product works on ships or its impact on biological life forms.’

Europe the next possible market

The next major step for I-Tech is to get Selektope approved on the European market.

‘A positive decision in Europe would mean a lot. Today, marine paint manufacturers are already lining up to be allowed to develop a paint containing Selektope. The challenge now is to find a way of combining various active substances to stop fouling by as many different organisms as possible. They’ll also have to devise a solution that enables the active substances to be released gradually and in a controlled way.’

The hope is that Selektope alone should be able to help reduce fuel consumption by the world’s boats and ships by a few per cent. This may perhaps sound like a negligible saving but it would, in practice, mean that the use of fossil oil would decrease by many hundred thousands of tonnes.

Per Westergård, Vetenskapsjournalisterna

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