Reducing biofouling using nanotechnology

Biofouling or biological fouling is when small organisms, barnacles, or algae attach themselves to ships, by the ship’s anchor or at the bottom of the ship. It has had devastating effects on the shipping industry. It has caused pipelines to be clogged, sped up corrosion, raised fuel consumption, and decreased buoyancy of maritime structures such as meshes, marine scaffolds, and boats. 

Biofouling also introduces invasive aquatic species to new marine locations via ships. These marine species can be carried through a ship’s ballast water or a ship’s hull. Once the invasive species are deposited in the environment, they can start to reproduce, competing with native species and setting off an imbalance in marine habitats. Invasive species have increased due to seaborne trade and shipping traffic. However, technology has started to play a more active role in many sectors like shipping to reduce the harm to ships and prevent invasive aquatic species from spreading.  

Technology has come a long way in the last couple of decades. It introduces new modern solutions to biofouling like nanotechnology. Nanotechnology is a combination of blended organic and inorganic materials. This can help prevent biofouling by creating environmentally acceptable marine coatings for ships and becoming an anti-fouling solution.  

Nanotechnology obtains new properties of materials that are improved upon in the nanometer scale after manipulating materials. These Nanostructures can be synthesized by self-assembling atoms use highly controlled and tunable properties. The nanostructures can be zero-dimensional (nanoparticles), one-dimensional (nanowires), two-dimensional (thin films), or three-dimensional (arrays, hierarchical structures). These nano-scale sizes can be utilized for their use in many applications, whether it be fuel, solar cells, medicine, food, sensors, water treatment, or electronics. 

For shipping, this means the creation of anti-corrosion coatings that can be enhanced at a molecular level. The marine environment can be harsh as maintaining the cost of ships can be expensive. Saltwater corrosion or removing barnacles that attach themselves to hulls (biofouling) creates drag, reducing fuel efficiency.  

Recently, two-coat anti-corrosion systems were formulated with carbon nanotubes (CNTs), which are tiny rope-like carbon structures that can stretch without breaking, making them long-lasting. 

Currently, in the Caribbean one of the solutions to biofouling is the Ballast Water Management Convention that was established by the International Maritime Organization and signed by all countries in the region sans Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. This solution allows ballast water to be safely discarded before ships reach port, thereby preventing invasive aquatic species. 


AzoNano – Hybrid Nanocomposites as a Biofouling Solution 

IMO – Biofouling 

IMO – Implementing the Ballast Water Management Convention 

FAO – Progress of marine biofouling and antifouling technologies 

Policy Brief – Prevention and Management of Marine Invasive Alien Species in the Caribbean 

Frontiers – Nanocoating Is a New Way for Biofouling Prevention 

ShipTechnology Global – Nanotechnology: Four Key Applications in Shipping