Research conducted to eliminate bio-fouling on naval vessels


Flinders University researchers.

Research led by Flinders University at ASC’s deep submarine maintenance facility in Adelaide has shown how electrically charged surface coatings can eliminate marine bio-fouling, or sea organism growth, to potentially improve naval vessel operation and maintenance. 

The research was funded via $150,000 from the South Australian Defence Innovation Partnership program and partnered with ASC, the Department of Defence and the University of South Australia. It aims to develop practical applications that could end marine bio-fouling, which costs billions each year worldwide. 

The latest sample inspections have shown positive results, according to Flinders Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology director and professor Mats Andersson. 

“Our tests have shown that fouling can be significantly reduced and, in some cases, completely eliminated on surfaces that are coated with a conducting paint and subject to electrochemical stress,” Andersson said. 

“To be honest, we are surprised that it works so well. As far as we know, there isn’t a lot of this research being done around the world and while our research is specific to the Port River in Adelaide, it could be applied to any surface that is submerged in the ocean.”  

The “active anti-fouling” experiments have tested a range of materials, coatings and electrical cycles, comparing them against non-electrically stressed samples. 

ASC, which maintains and upgrades Australia’s Collins Class submarine fleet, is providing advice, laboratory and wharf facilities for submerging the samples.  

Marine bio-fouling has caused obstructions to key areas of the hull that were time consuming and expensive to clear, ASC principal development engineer for Materials Mikael Johansson said. 

“Warships and submarines use sea water in the cooling systems of propulsion and weapons systems – even air conditioning. Making sure the inlet valves, which let that water in, don’t become clogged with marine life, is a priority,” Johansson said. 

“This research could lead to protecting various parts of the Collins Class submarine hulls, leading to fewer interruptions to naval operations and less maintenance.” 

Clearing marine bio-fouling is estimated to cost billions of dollars per year for shipping companies and navies worldwide. A fully developed “biofouling community” growing on a ship’s hull can cause up to 40 per cent more fuel consumption, due to the additional hull drag and poor manoeuvrability. 

To view a video on the anti-fouling research, click here. 

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