Biofouling: a global challenge that needs rethinking

Impact of biofouling
Impact of biofouling

The rapid pace of technological innovation has had a growing impact on the shipping industry. But as owners and fleet managers face increasing pressure to improve environmental performance, new technologies will be necessary to ensure a profitable and sustainable future. The impact of biofouling on ship fuel use and emissions has generated increasing attention. According to the Clean Shipping Coalition, fouled hulls cost the shipping industry as much as $30 billion per year.

Dr. Volker Bertram, Senior Project Manager at DNV GL, notes that a more proactive technology is needed to curb the build-up of marine organisms. “Preventive or proactive systems that control the fouling development at the level of biofilm or slime formation are generally seen as an improvement over reactive cleaning, which occurs long after the fouling has attached to the hull surface,” he says.

The next decade: Stricter regulations, common standardsDr. Bertram notes that the IMO’s recent launch of the GloFouling Partnerships project to address the transfer of harmful aquatic species signals an important regulatory shift. “We see an increased focus on hull and propeller performance and anticipate more stringent measures as biofouling moves up the regulatory agenda,” he says. “Stricter regulations on biofouling and its removal are likely to come into force in more regions around the world within the next decade. We have already an IMO guideline on biofouling management; guidelines are often precursors to mandatory conventions at IMO level.”

Dr. Bertram hopes that EU and IMO regulations will be harmonised to bring common standards of what is ‘clean’ in terms of hull fouling.

“Increasingly, shipowners will document and record what hull management measures have been taken, such as type of coating, type of cleaning, etc., to bring more transparency for authorities and ports, ultimately also charterers or new owners of vessels.”

In addition, port authorities may differentiate more on which ships may be cleaned in port, by which companies and by which technologies.

Proactive measures: The time to act is now
Existing reactive cleaning may distribute alien invasive species into the port ecosystems, along with paint particles usually containing biocides. Ports are generally the most likely places of getting fouling on the hull and releasing fouling. This is why many ports forbid cleaning indiscriminately for all ships and cleaning technologies.

Dr. Bertram sees an increased market demand for proactive hull cleaning solutions when technology is available. “We may also see a wider take-up on proactive measures when more economic cleaning options come on the market.”

The future: More about hull performance than hull coatings
Seeking solutions to keep a ship’s hull continuously clean is challenging as the biofouling risk and management options for each vessel will differ depending on design, operating profile, and trading routes.

“It is also important to consider the effect of cleaning on the lifetime of a coating,” says Dr. Bertram.

Currently a number of international collaborations are working on the guidelines and standards for hull cleaning. The market is looking for solutions, whether in-house developments or business alliances or through acquisitions of smart start-up companies.

“There is movement towards non-biocidal technologies, such as ultrasonic protection or coatings trapping air films but I believe future will lie more in providing overall solutions for hull performance, rather than just new marine antifouling coatings,” says Dr. Bertram. “In any case, if you don’t go forward you go backwards. Yesterday’s recipe for success will not work for tomorrow’s challenges. Fortunately, we see the power of innovation at work in our industry and many exciting and good ideas are entering the market.”

Read another article about emissions: Could nuclear powered ships help the industry meet the 2050 emissions target?

    Latest Tweets from the IIMS