University of Auckland bioengineers have developed an electrifying system for banishing the biofouling that creates such a headache for marinas, boaties and aqua farmers.
Electroclear, a new spin-out company based at Auckland Bioengineering Institute (ABI), is using electric fields to disrupt small organisms’ ability to live on selected underwater surfaces. It is a permanent, non-toxic solution with a wide range of applications.
“We became aware of the biofouling problem when we heard about the invasive fanworms in the Auckland harbour,” says doctoral student Christopher Walker.
Walker, and fellow doctoral student and company partner Patrin Illenberger (both in ABI’S Biomimetics Laboratory), discovered that by setting up two separate electrodes underwater to create a fully encapsulated electric field, they could target and disrupt certain organisms.
Electroclear has been experimenting at Port Opua (Bay of Islands), Outboard Boating Club (Orakei), and Westhaven Marinas – exploring ways to create electric fields on different surfaces – boat hulls, rope, pontoons – and then connect these to small, land-based power boxes.
Experiments with fibreglass panels hanging over the side of a pontoon have proved successful. “The panels equipped with an electric field had no organisms attached after 50 days,” says Illenberger, “while those with no field had bryozoans, algae and barnacles on their surface.”
One of Electroclear’s goals is the development of a database detailing the parameters that impact organisms in various environmental conditions. “Which means a customer may be able to come to us with a problem with particular algae or larvae in a particular area of the country and we will know the exact electrical field needed to control it,” says Walker.
Electroclear recently won funding and mentor support through the University’s Entrepreneurship programme, Velocity, and is talking with research institutions and commercial partners to develop applications for both marine infrastructure and aqua farms.