Biofouling – the buildup of barnacles, plants and algae on ship hulls – is only getting worse as the waters warm and port congestion increases downtime, according to one recent report I-Tech study.
As it accumulates, biological material adds drag and reduces energy efficiency, costing shippers money and releasing greenhouse gases unnecessarily. The study found that the risk of biofouling build-up increases dramatically when a vessel is idling or is in warmer waters.
“Fouling takes place much faster in warm tropical waters. Ships exposed to longer periods at anchor while awaiting cargo or port access are at greater risk of fouling than those moving, ”said the study from I-Tech, a company Swedish company who developed an anti-fouling paint ingredient. “We know that vessels idling for 14 days or more are highly exposed to the risk of barnacle growth. “
With increasing port congestion in areas such as the west coast of the United States and the east coast of China, biofouling is accelerating. The average wait time for ships from the mooring to the pier in Los Angeles was at an all-time high of 13 days on Wednesday, according to FreightWaves’ latest congestion update for the area.
Biofouling can begin within the first few hours of a vessel entering the water, according to International Maritime Organization.
“On average, barnacles can grow about 0.1 mm per day, but it can be even more under the right conditions,” Markus Hoffmann, technical director of I-Tech AB, told FreightWaves. “When a ship’s hull begins to foul, its full impact is not fully realized until after weeks of growth. Initially, after their first week of adhesion, the small barnacles can be removed relatively easily. However, we can only see the full extent of the impact of idling fouling until after weeks, if not months, when fouling organisms start to grow. “
Read: Oceanic delays are flying desperate retailers, increasing emissions
Before recent congestion reached critical levels, the study estimated that the number of idling vessels had already roughly doubled in the past decade.
The study found a negative feedback loop. More biofouling can lead to greater fuel consumption and higher emissions, increasing the carbon footprint. Increased GHG emissions can lead to higher water temperatures, increasing the risk of biofouling.
Cost and Ecosystem Considerations
“A vessel with only 10% barnacle coverage requires a 36% increase in shaft power to maintain the same speed in the water,” the I-Tech study said.
Since fuel consumption is such a large part of shipping costs, this increase in drag can dramatically reduce profits. Each hull cleaning related to biofouling can cost $ 15,000 to $ 45,000, according to the study. ECOsubasea, a robotic cleaner and biofouling collector based in Storebø, Norway, estimates that shippers can save up to 20% on fuel costs when friction from biofouling is removed.
But fuel efficiency, profits and emissions aren’t the only reasons biofouling is an enemy of the shipping industry. It also brings aquatic invasive species from around the world to unique marine environments where the species can damage local ecosystems.
“The spread of invasive species is now recognized as one of the greatest threats to the ecological and economic well-being of the planet. These species cause enormous damage to biodiversity and to the precious natural resources of the land on which we depend. … A significant economic impact occurs on industries that depend on the coastal and marine environment, such as tourism, aquaculture and fisheries, as well as costly damage to infrastructure, ”IMO said.
The organization recommends routine biofouling management to reduce vessel resistance and reduce threats to biodiversity. There are several anti-fouling coatings for different conditions and cleaning techniques in industry, although most of these techniques damage coatings intended to prevent build-up.
I-Tech has developed Selektope, a metal-free organic marine anti-fouling paint ingredient designed to prevent barnacle larvae from attaching to ship hulls.
ECOsubasea’s robotic biofouling removal solution collects what is removed from ship hulls, including aquatic invasive species, and brings it ashore to be used as a feedstock for biofuels. This gentler removal technique can be done in water, removes over 97% of soiling and doesn’t damage the hull’s antifouling coating, according to the company.
“The savings from effective antifouling systems are estimated at over $ 100 million. [metric tons] of carbon dioxide to the entire shipping industry each year, ”the study says.
Click here for more articles on FreightWaves by Alyssa Sporrer.
OceanWaves: What does congestion really mean for global trade?
Report: The maritime transport energy mix requires 70% hydrogen-based green fuels by 2050
Amazon and Ikea commit to zero carbon shipping fuels by 2040
Report: Sustainable Marine Fuels Should Meet Extended Criteria