Dutch Antifouling Wrap Nominated for European Inventor Award
(With video) Dutch materials scientist and inventor Rik Breur developed a non-toxic, self-adhesive antifouling "carpet" for ships and offshore structures. His invention has been nominated for a European Inventor Award 2019 in the "SMEs" category.
The wrap for marine structures and ships prevents biofouling – the growth of marine life such as algae, barnacles and mussels on maritime structures – without the use of harmful chemicals. It saves owners of ships and static marine structures from having to carry out costly cleaning procedures to remove the marine organisms that attach themselves to their offshore windparks, oil rigs and vessels, and also improves fuel efficiency in ships.
Biofouling Can Increase Fuel Consumption by up to 40%
Most antifouling paints are toxic and can have a significantly negative effect on the environment. Without antifouling however, the drag the growth of marine life causes can increase a ship's fuel consumption by between 10% and 40%. Biofouling can also cause damage to static structures such as windfarms and oil rigs, resulting in expensive cleaning operations.
When Technology and Nature Come Together
The inspiration for Breur's invention came from his interest in biology, specifically how nature prevents unwanted growth and repels organisms by presenting a hostile environment. He spent much of his time examining the spiny surfaces found on creatures such as sea urchins. Inspired by the way they protect themselves, the Dutch materials scientist mimicked their defence mechanisms by developing a wrap of stiff, spiny microfibres.
The constant movement of the prickly nylon spikes creates an unattractive surface for algae, mussels, barnacles and other marine life, therefore keeping the surface free from biofouling. Breur found that the wrap was effective both when vessels are moving and when they are moored, meaning that it can also be applied to static objects such as offshore wind turbines.
Breur's patented material, which consists of nylon fibres, polyester self-adhesive film and a two-component water-based adhesive, is supplied in rolls like carpeting. Marketed as Finsulate Antifouling, the self-adhesive wrap is affixed onto the vessel's hull, a process that can be completed by any shipyard, wrapping or painting company.
Due to the perpendicular fibres, it does not matter which way round the film is applied. The fibres are closely packed together so that nothing can attach itself in between. Importantly, the coating does not slow down the ships, thanks to careful work on the hydrodynamics, and has a maintenance-free lifespan of five years.
New Solution to an Old Problem
'Rik Breur has found a new solution to an old problem by working at the interface of material science and biology,' says EPO President António Campinos. 'By taking inspiration from nature and applying his scientific expertise, he has come up with an invention that benefits both the maritime sector and the marine environment.'
Breur obtained his first patent for a version of the biofouling surface featuring stiff fibres between 3 and 4 mm long in 2006. The second international patent was for a further improvement to his invention, namely softer bristles to prevent pollution from settling in between them, and improved hydrodynamics in 2017. In March 2018, Finsulate was named Product of the Year 2018 at the Amsterdam HISWA boat show.
On the Lookout for a Strategic Partner
The product is currently being commercialised through his own company, but Breur's goal is not necessarily to build a big company. Rather he hopes to find a strategic partner with logistics and distribution already in place. He says that he wants to stay focused on what he is good at, which is developing his invention.
Breur: 'I really enjoy the fact that a solution to a problem in society can be found through creativity. And that's my biggest motivation. And over years of evolution, nature has already solved all kinds of things that we humans can learn from.'
PhD in Biofouling
Breur began his professional career at the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) in 1996. After earning a PhD in corrosion and biofouling from the Delft University of Technology in 2001, he started his own research company, Material Innovation Centre, in 2002 to pursue innovation in this area.
The European Inventor Award
The European Inventor Award was launched by the European Patent Office (EPO) in 2006, it honours inventors whose pioneering inventions provide answers to some of the challenges of our times. The finalists and winners are selected by an independent jury consisting of international authorities from the fields of business, politics, science, academia and research who examine the proposals for their contribution towards technical progress, social development, economic prosperity and job creation in Europe.
The Award is conferred in five categories (Industry, Research, Non-EPO countries, SMEs and Lifetime achievement) at a ceremony that will this year take place in Vienna on 20 June. Breur has been named as one of three finalists in the "SMEs" category. The other two are Esben Beck (Norway) with "Lasers and AI for healthier salmon" and Richard Palmer, Philip Green (United Kingdom) with "Flexible armour that hardens on impact".
In addition, the public selects the winner of the Popular Prize from among the 15 finalists by online voting on the EPO website in the run-up to the ceremony. Voting is open until 16 June 2019.