Biofouling and Big Data


By The Maritime Executive 2017-10-09 12:14:47

The IMO is also moving its attention to hull biofouling with the recent launch of a new global project, the GloFouling Partnership. The project will focus on the implementation of the IMO Guidelines for the control and management of ships’ biofouling (resolution MEPC.207(62)).

For now, the Guidelines are not mandatory, and, for now, they are just one of the biofouling management protocols in operation as countries, such as New Zealand develop unilateral approaches. 

The Maritime Executive spoke to Carl Barnes, Global Antifouling Business Manager for coating manufacturer AkzoNobel to find out what the company is doing and his views on the future.

Do you think IMO's current guidelines are adequate for addressing the invasive species risks? 

Through the International Paint and Printing Ink Council (IPPIC), official observers to IMO and its sub-committees, AkzoNobel has been involved in the development of the guidelines from the outset and have actively participated in working groups convened by IMO.

The guidelines advocate owners and operators establish a Biofouling Management Plan and Record book, taking into account the selection of fouling control coating and methods of installation and maintenance, advising in-water inspection and cleaning whilst in service, and considerations at design and construction to minimize biofouling, particularly in ‘niche’ areas.

We know that biofouling can have a significant effect on the delicate ecosystems that are not only an important part of our natural heritage but are vital to the continued sustainability of global fishing stocks. Similarly, the effect that biofouling has on vessel performance, and the additional carbon emissions that it causes, mean that it must be tackled.

Having been involved with the development of these guidelines, we believe that they provide globally consistent, insightful and practical recommendations on tangible measures which, if adopted, will minimize the risks associated with biofouling for all vessel types. Because of this, we welcome the establishment of the GloFouling Partnership by the IMO, which will focus on implementing these guidelines, particularly in developing countries.

Do you think IMO should make a mandatory regime?

Regardless of whether these guidelines are mandatory, they will still need to be enforced by flag states, as is the case with the existing antifouling regulations. We see education for all stakeholders around the risks of biofouling, and the economic and environmental case for tackling it, as one of the most vital steps here to drive the widespread uptake of these regulations. This is why we have created tools like Intertrac Vision our Big Data tool, that uses advanced analytics and datasets incorporating billions of data points to calculate how much fuel can be saved by switching to advanced fouling control hull coatings. This is part of our wider ‘Digital Voyage’ strategy of using the latest digital technology to put as much of our knowledge and expertise as possible into the hands of industry stakeholders.

As with the Ballast Water Convention, AkzoNobel, and various other observers, see this as something that will eventually become mandatory. However, we believe that it is in the best interests of ship owners and operators to comply ahead of regulation, which will also help to further advance the sustainability of the shipping industry. AkzoNobel has developed templates to help owners and operators comply with these guidelines.

Can you tell me about any regional regulations and the impact they are having?

In certain regions, governments are getting serious on biofouling. For example, from May 2018, New Zealand will require all vessels that arrive in its waters to have ‘clean hulls,’ with varying levels of fouling acceptable depending on the vessel’s itinerary. The state of California also intends to tighten up its regulations on biofouling to include the mandatory biofouling management of the vessel’s wetted surfaces.

This shows a growing awareness of biofouling, being led by governments who are typically very forward thinking in terms of biosecurity and environmental legislation. As we’ve seen in the past with the implementation of the MARPOL Annex VI global sulfur cap, and the recent debates around GHG emissions within the Marine Environmental Protection Committee, there is a real demand for the shipping industry to improve its sustainability, which AkzoNobel unequivocally supports, and is a core tenet of our business strategy.

The IMO’s biofouling guidelines will go a long way towards allowing access to ports with stringent fouling regulations. Not only do they provide best practice advice on how to keep a clean hull, they also include the keeping of record books, which will help port authorities and other parties easily determine if a vessel is a fouling risk.

There are a number of new in-water cleaning technologies being developed, including ones that capture the material removed from the hull. Do you see any trends or any promising developments or any issues?

These kinds of technologies are very promising both in terms of their safety benefits and the fact that fouling removed from the hull is not deposited into the sea. This is very much aligned with the work we are doing with drone companies in relation to the inspection and maintenance of coatings. 

Hull cleaning is an important part of ensuring maximum performance from coatings, and as such, should be considered part of an overall hull performance plan. One of our current priorities is working on digital services that can help owners and operators select a coating that complements their vessel’s operational profile, including cleaning regimen.

Are there issues to be considered in drydocking with respect to hull inspection and maintenance?

At the drydock stage, there is a huge potential for the use of robotics in the application of coatings. Automating this process can result in less wastage and potentially smoother and more consistent applications, which enhances vessel performance, both in saving fuel and combating fouling. We’re currently working with robotics partner Hubert Palfinger Technologies (HPT) to investigate this further. 

Biofouling removal can be particularly problematic in niche areas. Do you see this as affecting shipowners' coating and cleaning decisions?

Niche areas (sea chests, bow thrusters etc.) generally have restricted access which means the application of fouling control products can be challenging. When in service, changes in water flow in these areas can also lead to an increased fouling challenge compared to the main hull area. The IMO guidelines give advice on design and construction to minimize small niche areas. However, effective fouling control can only be achieved via correct specification of the fouling control product, good quality application and regular in service inspections.   

Can you explain the difference between hard fouling and soft fouling and slime and their relationship to operating profile?

Slime, or microfouling, is present on the immersed areas of most ships and is recognized not to be a major source of translocation of invasive species. Weed and animal macrofouling, which has the greatest effect of vessel performance, presents the major source of invasive species. Animal fouling can be further classified as either hard body (barnacles, tube worms, mussels), effectively animals that have a hard shell, or soft body (tubularia – hydroids) which do not have a hard shell. 

The intent of the guidelines is to keep ships’ submerged surfaces and internal cooling systems as free from macro biofouling as is practical. AkzoNobel provides a full range of antifouling options tailored to different types of fouling and fouling challenge. For instance, Intersleek 1100SR uses specifically tailored surface chemistry that specifically influences and resists the adhesion and settlement of organisms that make up slime, whilst Intercept 8500 LPP has been specially designed to offer fouling control on the most challenging routes.

Biofouling has a dual impact (invasive species and fuel usage). Is there a practically achievable point at which it is optimal to keep hull growth that is ideal for both considerations?

Finding the ‘right’ way to handle biofouling is critical, but it is also a highly complex question. Different vessels, with different operating profiles, in different locations will each face different fouling challenges.

For example, certain vessels may need to be stationary for long periods of time, in which case the fouling challenge is expected to be significantly greater than that encountered by a vessel actively trading in the deep sea environment.

Because of this, it’s hard to say what an ‘optimum’ level is – and with new coatings coming on to the market rapidly, this is a moving target. This is why one of our current priorities is developing solutions that help owners and operators analyze the fouling challenges their vessels will face in advance of their voyage, which enables us to work closely with them to ensure that the optimum coatings are selected on a vessel-by-vessel basis.   

Coating technology is developing all the time. Can you give an update of what lies ahead?

AkzoNobel sees a huge opportunity in applying Big Data to antifouling coatings selection and maintenance. Because of the huge number of factors involved, using Big Data tools can help owners select the right coatings and then monitor and manage the performance of the coatings selected. As we constantly strive to enhance our coatings range, we are committed to transforming as a business to put this technology at the heart of everything we do, in order to maximize the benefits it can deliver in operational, environmental and financial performance.

One of the latest developments in this is Intertrac Perform, the latest addition to the Intertrac range. Currently being trialed, this software measures and monitors hull performance data and validates it against predictions made by Intertrac Vision, AkzoNobel’s big data tool for coating performance prediction. By analyzing power and speed profiles in accordance with the ISO 19030 standard, users can identify whether coatings are performing as they should, and whether extra maintenance or service may be necessary. This means that we can now offer a complete solution for predicting, monitoring and analyzing coating performance.

Given the complexity of biofouling issues, and the dramatic impact that this has on performance and the natural environment, we see this as a game-changing step forward in empowering owners and operators to meet these challenges head-on.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.