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Tackling Marine Growth on Ships

Ground-breaking research has led to the introduction of Medotominine, a new, sustainable and safe active substance that can be used in paints and coatings to counter the damaging build-up of barnacles, algae and other sea creatures on marine equipment. The research was conducted as part of JoeSeaFine, a Eurostars project co-funded by EUREKA member countries and the European Union’s Research Framework Programme.

Known as biofouling, plant and animal based encrustations, notably barnacles, can appear on any equipment or infrastructure that is constantly submerged in water. Biofouling causes headaches, especially for sea vessel operators, from amateur sail enthusiasts and yacht owners to operators of commercial or military fleets. Particularly costly is damage to the seaworthiness of vessel hulls and propulsion systems. The global cost of biofouling is anywhere between € 28 billion and € 190 billion annually, per various estimates.  

Biofouling is generally addressed using coats and paints that contain one or more active substances, known as antifouling agents or antifoulants, which act as biocides on creatures that attach to the surface of marine equipment. The most common antifoulant is copper, which was introduced as a coating for ships already in the early 1700s. Copper is still the most widely used antifouling agent today; however concerns have been raised about the impacts of copper leaching from paints and coatings into the marine environment and subsequently the food chain.

MED has since been successfully commercialised and proven effective in tests on vessels

”We aimed to find something undiscovered,” explains Lena Lindbladt from the I-Tech AB in Sweden, which along with Jotun A/S and the Laboratoire Arago of the Observatoire Océanologique de Banyuls sur Mer was one of three organisations involved in JoeSeaFine. The project led to the commercialisation of the pharmacological substance Medotominine (MED) as a cost-effective, environmentally safe and barnacle-friendly antifouling agent.

“We started looking at the biological behaviour of the barnacle body,” she continues. ”And using a background in pharmacology, we found that MED attaches to receptors in the barnacle.” Remarkably, and rather than killing barnacles, MED essentially discourages barnacles from attaching to ship hulls in the first place. MED has since been successfully commercialised and proven effective in tests on vessels.

The discovery of MED as a safe antifouling agent adds a critical additional option to the market, giving end-users greater flexibility to treat biofouling with reduced environmental impact. After all, sea conditions vary greatly, particularly across commercial shipping lanes. To be effective, the right coats and paints need to be applied depending on a range of oceanic variables.

The JoeSeaFine project, which has received two prizes for environment from industrial organisations, also established a body of highly interesting data that can be used for further research into the field. Overall, the project ran smoothly and was very straightforward from a scientific and methodological approach, confirms Lindbladt, who is keen to collaborate with more bio-tech firms.