Biofouling – the build up of plants, animals, algae and microorganisms on submerged surfaces, is a major issue within marine based industries. With estimated annual costs of over $100 billion to deal with biofouling, the need for a solution to overcome or prevent some of the issues is clear to see.
There have been methods in place to reduce the impact of biofouling, though the majority of these solutions have involved the usage of copper based paints. These paints can be effective in preventing the build up mussels, barnacles and other matter, but the paint works due to the toxicity of the copper paint either deterring anything from attaching in the first place or by killing them if they do attach. The main problem with this is the fact that the copper based paints used can end up releasing toxins into the water, which then has a knock on effect on other marine life, it is for this reason that a more eco friendly solution is required.
Based on research carried out at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard, covered in a recent Science magazine article, such a solution may now be available. Using their SLIPS (Slippery Liquid-Infused Porous Surfaces) coatings, they tested the effectiveness to prevent mussels from sticking to surfaces, comparing the coating against a variety of other treated surfaces, including two using silicone oil based coatings and one none-treated surface.
Throughout all testing, including both laboratory controlled and marine field studies, the SLIPS coatings consistently outperformed all other surfaces, meaning that it could be a viable, non-toxic solution to the issues brought about by biofouling, but how does it work?
SLIPS is made up of a solid surface that then has a liquid lubricant layer infused over the top. This liquid layer creates the non-stick solution that prevents marine life from attaching to the surface. Based on the research, there were a number of ways the coatings were found to have actually worked – the coatings not only reduced adhesive possibilities due to the make up of the surface but also deceived the mussels to think the surface wasn’t suitable to attach to and deterred the mussel’s adhesive process.
With such a large outlay on the issues caused by biofouling and the potential problems brought about by the usage of copper based paints, the SLIPS coating technology can become a key solution in not only reducing costs but benefitting the marine wildlife.