Marine fouling is a huge global environmental issue as well as having a considerable negative impact on the global shipping economy. Governments and industry spend huge sums of money to control it.
Marine bio-fouling is the process in which organisms such as barnacles problematically colonize underwater surfaces. When it happens to the hulls of ships, the vessels become less hydrodynamic, having to burn up to 40% more fuel in order to move through the water. Often ships visit dry docks every 12-16 months to have their hulls cleaned.
To protect against fouling, the submerged areas of ships are usually coated with specialised paints containing toxins that prevent fouling. The most effective paint contained Tribulytin compounds (TBT) but it caused serious harm to the environment and was banned by the IMO and member states since January 2008. This resulted in a plethora of different biocide antifouling products, but none are truly environmentally friendly as most have copper in some form and copper is toxic.
In recent years ultrasonic technology has been used to develop systems that use transducers attached to the inside of boat hulls from which ultrasonic pulses are emitted to deter fouling. These systems have been used on small boats since 2009 with moderate utilisation.
This Vesselclean research project aims to develop and deploy ultrasonic systems that will deter fouling on the entire ship hull and equipment below the water line. This will certainly be a more economical and environmentally friendly solution that can be employed without needing to take a ship out of service.