Swinburne researchers develop new protective coating for ships

A supersonic combustion flame jet is used to apply the coating. Source: Swinburne.edu.au

A new corrosion-resistant coating that halves the build-up of algae and barnacles on ship hydraulic components is now the subject of on-ship trials aboard HMAS Canberra, one of the Royal Australian Navy landing helicopter dock ships.

Researchers from Swinburne University of Technology are collaborating with experts from MacTaggart Scott Australia, United Surface Technologies and Defence Science and Technology (DST) Group under a DMTC-managed project to advance the new technology.

The scientists and industry experts came together to tackle the issue of corrosion and biofouling, a significant cost driver for the sustainment of Navy ships and a massive expense for the shipping industry worldwide.

“Many scientists around the world are looking for new ways to combat biofouling and corrosion,” said Dr Andrew Ang of Swinburne, the lead researcher on the project.

Dr Ang has collaborated with industry experts to tackle the issue of corrosion and biofouling, where tiny marine plants and animals build up on the surface of things that are constantly in the water, such as ship hulls, anchors and piers.

This build-up can transport pest species to new areas, cause corrosion, damage to critical mechanical components and increase the drag on a ship, causing it to burn more fuel as it sails. These factors combine to impose a massive expense on the shipping industry worldwide.

These highly corrosion resistant coatings are new ways to combat biofouling. Source: DMTC Limited

“We have developed new materials and used a supersonic combustion flame jet to coat hydraulic machinery parts, and found these new protective coatings reduce biofouling by roughly 50 per cent compared to current standard coatings,” Ang said.

The treatment, a single layer of carbide-based coating, is being trialled on parts of ships that require very smooth surfaces usually exposed to harsh operating conditions and as such rapidly degrade from biofouling and corrosion.

Dr Richard Piola, from DST Group, said the new surface coatings could make a huge difference to the operational availability of Navy ships, and significantly reduce the cost of maintenance and repairs.

“If the coating can double the length of time a ship can be at sea or available to be deployed—before it needs to be docked and cleaned—it could save costs and also increase operational readiness for the Defence Force.”

The team is testing the protective coating on a prototype system in the field, and have now been invited to conduct the trial on HMAS Canberra.

The Canberra and her sister ship HMAS Adelaide are providing the Australian Defence Force with one of the most capable and sophisticated air-land-sea deployment systems in the world.

The treatment is likely to be too expensive to be used on entire ship hulls, but it could make a big difference for critically important machinery on a ship that helps provide propulsion or heavy lifting capabilities. The team tested the protective coating on more than 100 test samples, immersing them in seawater at three field sites around Australia from 2015 to 2017.