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New coating cuts barnacle build-up to keep ships at sea longer

10 October 2018
Media Release
Image of Dr Andrew Ang and Mr Matthew Leigh preparing for the on-board trials on HMAS Canberra.
Preparing for the on-board trials on HMAS Canberra, Dr Andrew Ang and Mr Matthew Leigh.

A new corrosion-resistant coating that halved the build-up of algae and barnacles on ship hydraulic components is now being trialled on HMAS Canberra, one of the Royal Australian Navy landing helicopter dock ships.

Researchers from Swinburne University of Technology are collaborating with experts from the Defence Materials Technology Centre, MacTaggart Scott Australia, United Surface Technologies and Defence Science and Technology to advance the new technology.

The scientists and industry experts came together to tackle the issue of corrosion and biofouling, where tiny marine plants and animals build up on the surface of things that are constantly in the water, such as ship hulls, anchors and piers.

This build-up can be incredibly costly: it can transport pest species to new areas, cause corrosion, damage critical mechanical components and increase the drag on a ship, causing it to burn more fuel as it sails. These combine to impose a massive expense on the shipping industry worldwide.

"Many scientists around the world are looking for new ways to combat biofouling and corrosion," says Dr Andrew Ang of Swinburne, one of the lead scientists on the team.

"We have developed new materials and used a supersonic combustion flame jet, i.e. a 'flame thrower', to coat hydraulic machinery parts, and found these new protective coatings reduce biofouling by roughly 50 per cent compared to current standard coatings."

They're trialling the treatment (a single layer of carbide-based coating) on parts that require very smooth surfaces. Because these are exposed to harsh operating conditions, they rapidly degrade from biofouling and corrosion.

The treatment is likely to be too expensive to be used on entire ship hulls, but it could make a big difference for critically important machinery on a ship that helps provide propulsion or heavy lifting capabilities.

The team tested the protective coating on more than 100 test samples, immersing them in seawater at three field sites around Australia from 2015 to 2017.

Dr Richard Piola, from Defence Science and Technology, says the new surface coatings could make a huge difference to the operational availability of Navy ships, and significantly reduce the cost of maintenance and repairs.

"If the coating can double the length of time a ship can be at sea or available to be deployed—before it needs to be docked and cleaned—it could save costs and also increase operational readiness for the Defence Force."

The team is now testing the protective coating on a prototype system in the field, and have been invited to conduct the trial on HMAS Canberra.

The Canberra and her sister ship HMAS Adelaide are providing the Australian Defence Force with one of the most capable and sophisticated air-land-sea deployment systems in the world.

Dr Ang won the 2018 Fresh Science competition in Victoria for his work.

Fresh Science is a national competition run by Science in Public, which helps early-career researchers find and share their stories of discovery.

Fresh Science Victoria is supported by the Royal Society of Victoria, La Trobe University, Monash University, The University of Melbourne, Deakin University, RMIT University, CSIRO and Swinburne University of Technology.

Read the paper at Taylor and Francis Online.


Media contacts
• Dr Andrew Ang (Lead Research Engineer, Swinburne), +614 5128 6691,
• Lydia Hales (Media, Science in Public), +614 5785 4515,
• Edwina Callus (Media, Defence Science and Technology), +614 1998 4488
• Harry Baxter (Media, Defence Materials Technology Centre), +614 0151 6734