University to Develop Eco-Friendly Marine Coating
Detroit-based sustainability tech startup Repela Tech LLC from Wayne State University has recently been awarded a grant to research and develop an eco-friendly marine coating for ships and vessels.
Awarded by the National Science Foundation, the Small Business Technology Transfer Phase II grant will be used to further develop the university startup’s patent-pending (WSU Tech ID 20-1601) first-of-a-kind, safe antifouling marine coating.
“The importance of this award from NSF cannot be overstated,” said Sheu-Jane Gallagher, PhD, co-founder of Repela Tech. “The funding will enable Repela to advance its innovative coating technology, which promises to protect the Great Lakes and other precious bodies of water and thereby contribute to a more sustainable future for all.”
Zhiqiang Cao, PhD, is the company’s other co-founder and is reported to be a professor of chemical engineering and materials science in Wayne State University’s College of Engineering.
Developing the Antifoulant
Known as the accumulation of algae, barnacles and other marine organisms on underwater surfaces of ship hulls and other types of water vessels, biofouling can cause major issues for the marine industry. Most commonly, biofouling attributes to drag, which slows down vessels, leading to increased fuel consumption by as much as 40%.
For the global shipping industry specifically, increased fuel consumption because of biofouling-induced drag costs the industry an additional $36 billion per year. What’s more, is that the excess fuel consumption then contributes an additional 386 million tons of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere.
Although 90% of coatings developers use copper in their antifoulant solutions, the toxic biocide is reported to be harmful to the marine ecosystem.
In Repela’s “STTR Phase II: The Next Generation of Environmentally Friendly Coatings for Marine Antifouling” project, the research team hopes to develop a competitive, non-toxic antifoulant that avoids harmful environmental impacts.
“To date, Repela has raised more than $1.3 million in grant and angel funding, and much credit goes to Wayne State’s Office of the Vice President for Research and Dr. Joan Dunbar, retired Associate Vice President for Technology Commercialization, who provided critical support during the very early stage of IP development,” said Edward Kim, a former mentor-in-residence at the university and an angel investor.
While the antifoulant is in the patent-pending stages, in the project’s next phase, the team plans to fine-tune the formulation to meet marine end-user performance requirements, in addition to regulatory benchmarks.
In addition, researchers intend to demonstrate small-batch production capabilities. Repela reports that the work will lead to a rigorously tested, high-performing eco-friendly antifouling solution that will be ready for the marketplace.
In 2019, Repela received two NSF grants: a $225,000 STTR Phase I grant and a $50,000 I-Corps award. In 2018, Cao received an ADVANCE grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation that aided in early-stage proof-of-concept research for the eco-friendly antifoulant coating.
The grant number for this National Science Foundation STTR Phase II award is 2036498.
Other Antifoulant Research
Earlier this month, researchers at Australia's sovereign-owned submarine sustainment and maritime services company ASC found that a new type of surface coating could eliminate marine biofouling, or sea organism growth, on the hulls of naval vessels and other submerged surfaces.
Led by experts from Flinders University with partners ASC, the University of South Australia (who is providing expert advice and samples for coating materials) and the Department of Defense, worked together to develop practical applications that could end the scourge of marine biofouling.
In breakthrough experiments, researchers demonstrated how electrically charged surface coatings could better mitigate, even eliminate, these issues. Flinders University's Professor Mats Andersson, Director of Flinders Institute for Nanoscale Science & Technology and Theme Leader in the Biofilm Research and Innovation Consortium, reported that the latest inspections of the samples showed that the team’s research was performing exceptionally well.
The research was funded by the South Australian Defense Innovation Partnership program, who provided $150,000 for the project. Additionally, the research is supported by the South Australian Government and the Department of Defense.
The Defense Innovation Partnership has activated promising innovations in South Australia’s defense sector since 2018. The program received almost $10 million in additional funding, over the next four years, in the South Australian budget in June.
The experiments were conducted at ASC’s deep submarine maintenance facility in Adelaide, Australia.
For the research, ASC—which maintains and upgrades Australia’s Collins Class submarine fleet—was noted to have provided advice, laboratory and wharf facilities for submerging the samples.