Could nanotech fix both corrosion and biofouling?

The International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory (INL) is located in Braga, north Portugal. The International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory (INL) is located in Braga, north Portugal.

Leading European scientists have released details of a study on the potential of ‘Nanotechnology Marine Applications’ as part of the two-year KETmaritime project.

The International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory (INL) is the lead partner in the €1million initiative backed by the European Regional Development Fund.

Project coordinator Ana Vila said humidity and salinity levels at sea cause around 30pc of all vessel failures, repair needs and equipment malfunctions. Corrosion and biofouling are two major by-products impacting vessel materials, durability and performance.

While traditional solutions including protective coatings and paints partially offset the degradation process, new ‘nanotechnology’ is proving considerably more efficient.

“New solutions are now being explored through the development of ‘nanostructured’ coatings using ‘nanoparticulate’ substances said Ms Vila. These coatings are capable of providing superior protection because they involve substances which form and interact on previously unreachable scales, in which the corrosion and biofouling processes begin. As part of the KETmaritime project, the INL is currently working with Portuguese firm UNDERSEE to implement state of the art technologies to increase the lifetime of sensors in respect to biofouling. Nanotechnology further offers environmental benefits by maximising the anti-adherent or repulsive capabilities of a surface and eliminating the need for biocides.”

The latest study was led by Spanish technology centre IDONIAL in collaboration with Marine South East in the UK and the INL. According to the report, numerous companies are already developing specialised nanotech products to tackle corrosion and biofouling. New products include nanoadditives such as nano-ZnO, nanoalumina, nanosilica.

David Santos, from IDONIAL, said there are a raft of other potential uses for ‘nanotechnology’ across marine related operations.

“There remains huge interest in the potential of nanotechnology due to its innovative approach to products and processes from the smallest achievable physical scale,” he said. “At the molecular or atomic scale, the behaviour of matter can be very different from what is observed at a macro scale. There are many areas across the marine sector which will significantly benefit from new advances in nanotechnology. Our latest report expands in detail on the uses of this technology within shipbuilding, oil & gas operations, fuel additives, alternative powering systems, aquaculture and fisheries.”

By Jake Frith

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