Anti-fouling in the EU

An EU project is to investigate how to prevent the buildup of organisms on surfaces under marine conditions, for example on ships’ hulls.


Over thirty partners from business and science from 14 countries are collaborating on an EU project to investigate how to prevent the buildup of organisms on surfaces under marine conditions, for example on ships’ hulls.



The five-year AMBIO (Advanced Nanostructured Surfaces for the Control of Biofouling) project was launched in March 2005 and will be funded to the tune of 17.9 million Euros, 11.9 million Euros of which will be provided by the European Union.



The goal of the AMBIO project is to use nanostructuring to significantly reduce the adhesion of organisms to surfaces in aquatic environments, and thus control the fouling process without the use of biocides.



The project is led by Professor James Callow in the School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham. Professor Callow said that the AMBIO project team would be developing new polymers that will form the basis of a new generation of antifouling coatings for ship hulls, oceanographic instruments, heat exchangers, membrane filters and aquaculture equipment.


Biofouling is an issue with both environmental and economic relevance. For example, ships with fouled hulls require 40% more fossil fuel to travel at the same speed as unfouled vessels. This significantly increases emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases.



The current method used to prevent fouling is to use controversial biocides such as copper and organotin compounds that prevent fouling by killing the organisms.



The AMBIO project dispenses with the use of biocides, aiming instead to permanently minimise the physical adhesion of organisms to surfaces. Organisms such as algae and mussels first explore surfaces to select a suitable site on which to settle. Once they have found a suitable site, they excrete a biological adhesive to fix themselves permanently.


‘The AMBIO team aims to control the complex biofouling process by nanostructuring the surface to alter its wetting properties – signalling that the site is not suitable for the organisms to settle,’ added Dr. Harald Keller, a scientist at BASF, one of the company’s involved in the program.