Marine Paint

Programme ended 2010

This post is also available in Swedish


Marine fouling is a major problem for merchant shipping and leisure craft and has adverse consequences for fuel consumption. Fouling is currently restricted by adding metal compounds and organic biocides to vessel undercoats. Fouling can then be kept under control, sometimes for several years. The price is high, however; the active substances leak out from the coating of paint, and once in the water they impact the life of many marine organisms. The situation has developed to alarming proportions, and in ports, archipelago inlets and heavily trafficked waters across the world, damage to the marine environment is evident. In conformity with an international convention adopted by the International Maritime Organisation, the use of tin organic compounds in marine coating is prohibited as of 2003. For vessels previously painted using tin organic paints, the paint must either be stripped or, alternatively, the hull must be repainted with an impermeable finishing coat before 1 January 2008. However, the agreement has not yet come fully into force, since the convention must first be ratified by 25 countries. At the start of 2003, the EU decided to prohibit painting using tin organic compounds after July 2003 for all vessels registered in the EU. The decision covers all types of vessels (with the exception of military craft) and oil rigs. Paints containing high concentrations of copper are advocated as the primary alternative to tin based paints, although copper also adversely impacts the marine environment. All over the world, effective alternatives to today´s toxic vessel undercoats are being sought.


The goal of the programme is that at least one major paint company acts on research results and comes up with a product, which is superior to the alternatives currently available on the market. The product will need to be an ecologically acceptable way of preventing the larvae of the acorn barnacle from attaching themselves to the surface of vessels. The programme is based on findings from the University of Gothenburg on the receptors of acorn barnacle larvae. The acorn barnacle (Balanus) is considered to be the most serious fouling organism worldwide, and a lot can be gained from efficiently impeding it from gaining a foothold on painted surfaces. The programme has three sub-goals: i) a substance which efficiently impedes fouling is to be evaluated; ii) the substance is to be formulated so that the vessel will need to be painted as infrequently as every second or third year, and iii) work on registering the product as an antifouling substance is to reach an advanced stage. In the long-term, the research group takes the view that the same sharply-focused, biological line of attack can be used against other problematic organisms such as the common sea mussel.


The programme´s resultant benefits can be viewed from two different angles. By using an environmentally compatible antifouling substance which very efficiently impedes the spread of the acorn barnacle, it will be possible to formulate vessel undercoats which have roughly the same antifouling effect as today´s copper-based paints, but which impact the environment much less severely. This will result in palpable improvements in the marine environment. In a scenario where environmental impact is kept at a low, constant level, i.e. where no ecotoxicological substances are added to paints, this environmentally acceptable way of impeding acorn barnacle fouling will result in reduced fuel consumption and lower costs for docking or underwater cleaning. The main beneficiaries of this will be the merchant fleet and owners of smaller craft, along with mussel farmers and others involved in marine cultivation and propagation. Restrictions of this kind already exist. In the Baltic Sea, for example, the use of paints containing active antifouling substances is prohibited for leisure craft, and this type of restriction will probably become more widespread. Countries need to proactively care for their own industry, and, not least, strive to ensure that water quality is maintained at a high level for the sake of tourism. This awareness will mean that demands will be made on authorities in different countries to gradually apply more rigorous requirements with regard to vessel undercoats. The emergence of practical solutions to the problem should accelerate this development.

In an interim phase, the paint industry, including its suppliers, will be able to make use of the results of the programme. The global market for marine paints amounts to SEK 5-10 billion, and the antifouling substance is a key component in this system.