Boating NZ - - Boat World -

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.

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