Automatgenererad bild.

20 November 2015

Antifouling paint and food for king prawns from Mistra research

Two products that have come into being thanks to previous Mistra-funded research are now being launched. Boat antifouling paints containing Selektope® will help to reduce emissions of copper into marine environments worldwide, and microorganisms will make it possible to farm king prawns in rural Skåne.

It sounds strange. We have learnt that king prawns should be avoided because they are farmed in conditions that threaten, in particular, mangrove swamps in Asia. But this is not necessarily so: they can just as well be farmed in Skåne without generating environmental problems.

The fact that these prawns can grow and thrive in the middle of Bjuv in the county of Skåne is a result of the Mistra-funded ‘Domestication of Microorganisms’ (DOM) research programme, one aim of which was to use microorganisms to solve environmental problems.

‘Prawn farming definitely wasn’t in the picture when the programme started in 2003. This knowledge is a side-effect of the researchers’ efforts to make use of waste products from the pulp industry,’ says Mistra’s Christopher Folkeson Welch.

The practical achievement of these researchers, headed by Matilda Olstorpe, has been to use microorganisms to create a kind of fish food that does not deplete marine resources and can be produced in an ecofriendly way.

The first people to get their teeth into the prawns from Skåne will be restaurant guests, but the hope is that they will be available in shops as early as in 2016.

Effective against barnacles

More in line with the original plan was developing the other product from the Mistra research: a new, environmentally sound antifouling paint for boat hulls. As long as 12 years ago, researchers from Chalmers University of Technology presented the idea to Mistra. Their proposals aroused great interest and a research grant was awarded within the framework of Mistra’s ‘Marine Paint’ research programme.

The researchers’ aim was to create a paint that, rather than killing barnacles, prevents them from attaching themselves to boat hulls in the first place.

‘The big gain from the new paint is that it contains no copper. So emissions are reduced, which is especially important in seas with a low water turnover. This means that the paint is particularly relevant to the Baltic Sea environment,’ says Folkeson Welch.

Instead of copper, the paint contains a substance called medetomidine, a preparation used in veterinary medicine that formerly served mainly as a sedative for dogs and cats. Its effect on barnacles, on the other hand, is the opposite: it causes the animal’s legs to start kicking, so that it is unable to settle on a smooth hull. Other advantages of medetomidine are that it is biodegradable and causes no harm either to barnacles or to other living animals and plants.

Persistence pays

The product that began to be developed in the Marine Paint research programme, and which has subsequently been further developed by the company I-Tech, is known as Selektope®. The paint has recently been approved for use in an even larger number of key markets than before, and one of the world’s largest manufacturers of boat paints has signed an agreement entitling it to use the substance.

‘Selektope shows that to take a research breakthrough all the way to a commercial product, we need to be persistent. Being able to manage the setbacks that always arise on the way is essential too,’ Folkeson Welch says.

The length of time from idea to market is one explanation why Mistra often extends the duration of its research programmes from four to eight years. This increases researchers’ chances of achieving their aims.

‘When you’re doing research you often have an idea where you want to go, but it’s only afterwards that you can see how you got there. Sometimes, too, you end up not where you expected, but somewhere else — like a prawn farm in Skåne.’

Text: Per Westergård, Vetenskapsjournalisterna

Mistra Webbredaktör