Marine Anti-Fouling: a force for environmental good and commercial opportunity

Like many others we have been considering how our daily lives contribute to the warming, polluting and poisoning of our oceans, rendered in shocking detail by the brilliant BBC series, The Blue Planet. While much focus is rightly being applied to plastic pollution and ocean warming, an area that holds a special interest to our Senior Innovation Consultant, William Green is Marine Anti-Fouling. William looks at how we can use anti-fouling as a force for both environmental good and a potential commercial opportunity for existing anti biofilm technologies.


Oral Care

What is Marine Fouling and what does it have to do with biofilms?

Marine fouling can be broadly described as ‘the colonisation of surfaces in the marine environment by macroscopic and microscopic organisms’. Biofilms play a pivotal role in preparing any surface for adhesion by larger organisms and so much of the technology developed to counter marine fouling focusses on prevention or disruption of biofilm formation.

What’s the market?

The major problem caused by marine fouling is increased hydrodynamic drag, this may not sound like much but relatively mild levels of fouling can result in a 40% increase in fuel use. This is a huge figure made all the more impactful when you consider that fuel makes up 50% of marine transport costs! They can also lead to major corrosion problems. The anti-fouling market is worth around $5.7 billion per year and results in the marine sector saving $60 billion. With numbers of this scale, a product that delivers only a modest increase in anti-fouling potential produces a potential saving of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to the sector.



What are the barriers?

The vast majority of marine anti-fouling products include biocides, these biocides are subject to robust legislation via the Biocidal Products Regulation (BPR) which many of you will be familiar with from other sectors. As well as the BPR there are some more specific regulatory hurdles, more on that later. Despite these regulatory barriers the time to market is relatively low when compared to more traditional anti-biofilm areas such as wound healing or other healthcare applications. We asked Thomas Vance, Centre Manager at the Plymouth Marine Laboratory for this thoughts on this,

“The complex, dynamic and surprisingly resilient assemblages within marine biofilms make them challenging to control. In addition, regulatory pressure on antifouling coating manufactures to reduce biocide usage is driving innovative thinking to tackle this challenge, with implications far beyond just the marine sector. The are many strategies for biofilm control for relatively small surface areas, but for the shipping industry, scale-up to hull scale is often a problem. However, through funding opportunities such as NBIC, our understanding of marine biofilms increasing, allowing us to describe and predict their physical, chemical and biological characteristics. This knowledge will undoubtedly lead to increasingly effective biofilm control as a result of improved coatings and appropriate use active biofouling control strategies”.

Why should I be interested?

So, you may have developed some anti-biofilm technology for a different sector, it may already be registered on the BPR and be making its way through the extensive checks and tests required to be brought to market, why should you bother with translation into the marine sector?

When you combine the above points, a convincing opportunity presents itself.

  • Large market with even marginal improvements producing significant savings
  • Regulatory barrier common to other sectors meaning may existing technologies will already be registered
  • Low time to market when compared to other sectors with an anti-biofilm interest, such as would healing and other healthcare applications.

OK you’ve convinced me, what do I do next?

Here at NBIC, translation between different sectors is an area of key interest. As such we are keenly aware of the effort involved and the potential pitfalls for any business expanding into areas that they’re unfamiliar with. With this in mind we are going to be running a series of webinars to discuss and explain the process from start to finish, beginning with explaining the specific regulations, how to turn your product into a relevant paint or surface, how and where to test your new product as well as introducing you to large and small companies interested in investigating new marine anti-fouling technologies. Dates and more information on the first of these webinars will be announced soon, so watch this space!

If you want to discuss this further, find out more or get involved with our webinars then please contact our Senior Innovation Consultant, William Green.

All photos supplied by PML Applications Ltd.




William Green, NBIC Senior Innovation Consultant