Urchin-inspired antifouling innovation

Test application on a GRP sailing cruiser Test application on a GRP sailing cruiser

Like a sea urchin, Dutch inventor Rik Breur’s anti-fouling wrap repels biofouling with prickly microfibres.

This environmentally friendly alternative to toxic paint prevents the growth of algae, barnacles and mussels on boat hulls, and, he claims, could improve fuel efficiency by up to 40%.

Supplied in rolls like carpeting, Breur’s patented material, which consists of nylon microfibres on one side and a self-adhesive film on the other, is free from polluting chemicals and offers a greener and more efficient alternative. Marketed as Finsulate Antifouling, the wrap is directly affixed on to a vessel's hull. In the water, the constant swaying of the prickly nylon spikes creates an unattractive surface for algae, mussels, barnacles and other marine life, therefore keeping the surface free from biofouling. What’s more, the wrap’s microfibres are so closely packed together that marine life cannot grow on the spaces between them. The microfibres are also rigorously tested to ensure that they don’t fall off the boat’s hull as microplastic pollution. As the wrap is effective both when vessels are moving and moored, it can be applied both to ships and other maritime structures such as oil rigs and offshore wind turbines.

The inspiration for Breur’s invention came from his long-time interest in biology and his passion for diving, where he saw first-hand how creatures with spiky surfaces, such as sea urchins, repel potential settlers. A key motivation, he says, has been to remove toxic products from our oceans. His innovation now means that owners of marine vessels and other maritime structures no longer need to choose between using toxic antifouling paints or ignoring the problem - instead an effective, environmentally friendly solution is available. Using the wrap benefits owners of boats and marine structures: it eliminates the need for cleaning, improves hydrodynamic performance which reduces costs by increasing fuel efficiency, and, he further claims, has a maintenance-free lifespan of five years.

After earning a PhD in corrosion and biofouling from the Delft University of Technology in 2001, Breur started his own research company in 2002 to pursue innovation in this area. His current focus is on supplying his invention to the pleasure craft and yachting sector, in part because he believes individuals are becoming much more environmentally responsible.

With this invention Breur is a finalist for the European Inventor Award 2019, organised by the European Patent Office.

By Jake Frith

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