Conventional anti-fouling agents used on ship hulls pose potential poisoning risks but a LIFE project from Belgium has demonstrated the effectiveness of an alternative low toxic approach for keeping Europe’s shipping fleet clean and green.
Marine structures like ship hulls need protection from damage caused by the attachment of ‘bio-fouling’ marine organisms, such as barnacles and algae. Bio-fouling can permanently damage the hull surface and adds additional mass to a vessel, which in turn increases the amount of power (and fuel) required to propel a ship by as much as 40%. Once a hull becomes heavily fouled, risks also increase regarding transportation of non-indigenous species between countries.
Anti-fouling materials are therefore used to protect the build-up of bio-foul on ship hulls but the chemicals found in these compounds can be poisonous. The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has already banned the use of anti-foul that contains TBT (tributyltin) and other problems associated with anti-fouling materials relate to the way these degrade over time. As they break down they often release heavy metals or harmful biocides into marine environments which can pollute port waters, poison aquatic species and even enter the food chain.
Environmental engineers from Belgium’s Hydrex company wanted to find a solution for this problem. LIFE was identified as a funding option to help cover some of the costs involved with testing an innovative and marine-friendly anti-fouling product. €1.525 million of LIFE money was awarded to Hydrex for an ‘ECOTEC-STC’ project (LIFE06 ENV/B/000362), which worked with port authorities in Antwerp and other parts of Europe to provide scientific data that authenticated the non-toxicity of their ‘Ecospeed’ hull performance technology.
Running between June 2006 and December 2009, LIFE’s ECOTEC-STC project carried out a variety of different tests on the Ecospeed material using several different ships. Lifecycle analysis (LCA) tests included monitoring the product’s performance in commercial circumstances as well as via lab conditions to model worst case scenarios. The LIFE-funded work tested the performance of Ecospeed’s innovative formula in terms of its durability and anti-corrosive properties.
Results from the project showed that a high concentration of embedded glass platelets in the Ecospeed material acted as an impermeable barrier and this new anti-fouling agent contained low levels of volatile organic compounds. Conclusions from the LIFE analysis indicated other positive environmental outcomes because the Ecospeed paint contains no biocides, nor copper, nor TBT. As such, the risks posed to marine life by this new type of anti-fouling product were shown to be significantly reduced. In addition to its green credentials, Ecospeed was also shown to help improve the performance of the ships that it was tested on.
Cargo and passenger ships often operate under charters which include penalty clauses in their contract if fuel consumption targets are not met. Achieving distance/fuel ratios can be unpredictable for ships coated with regular anti-foul systems because their fuel requirements increase over time due to bio-fouling. In this way the ship becomes more expensive and profit margins can be affected as hulls require regular cleaning. However, conclusions from the LIFE project team’s investigations found that Ecospeed’s anti-fouling capacity remained strong for longer periods of time than conventional material. This can therefore provide commercial benefits because it can help to keep a ship's distance/fuel performance more stable over a longer term, which should lead to fuel saving opportunities.
Zero emission dry dockings are now possible for ships using non toxic anti-foul materials and (following dissemination of the results from LIFE’s demonstration project to port authorities and environmental agencies worldwide) several ports have overturned their previous general ban on underwater hull cleaning, specifically making an exception for vessels coated with the LIFE-tested Ecospeed.
See the ECOTEC-STC website for detailed information about the technology behind this LIFE project success story, and the ships where it has been applied to date.