Non-toxic so­lu­tion to bio­foul­ing

DEMM Engineering & Manufacturing - - NEWS -

UNI­VER­SITY OF AUCK­LAND bio­engi­neers have de­vel­oped an in­no­va­tive way to get rid of the un­der­wa­ter 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 that can be ap­plied to a wide range of ge­ome­tries.

“We be­came aware that bio­foul­ing was a big 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) brought their bio­engi­neer­ing train­ing to bear on the prob­lem.

“We had some ter­ri­ble ideas at first, but then about a year ago we be­gan tri­alling elec­tric fields un­der­wa­ter,” ex­plains Il­len­berger.

They dis­cov­ered that if they set up two sep­a­rate elec­trodes un­der­wa­ter and cre­ated a fully en­cap­su­lated elec­tric field, they could tar­get and dis­rupt cer­tain or­gan­isms.

“These or­gan­isms will try to ad­here, grow and spore and we try to stop them at ev­ery stage.”

Elec­tro­clear has been ex­per­i­ment­ing at Port Opua (Bay of Is­lands), Out­board Boat­ing Club (Orakei), and Westhaven Mari­nas look­ing at ways to cre­ate elec­tric fields on dif­fer­ent sur­faces – boat hulls, rope, pon­toons – and then con­nect these to small, land-based power boxes. There are el­e­ments of the process they are keep­ing se­cret but ex­per­i­ments dur­ing which fi­bre­glass pan­els were hung over the side of a pon­toon have proved their method.

The has been ex­per­i­ment­ing at Port Opua (Bay of Is­lands), Out­board Boat­ing Club (Orakei), and Westhaven Mari­nas look­ing at ways to cre­ate elec­tric fields on dif­fer­ent sur­faces – boat hulls, rope, pon­toons – and then con­nect these to small, land-based power boxes. There are el­e­ments of the process they are keep­ing se­cret but ex­per­i­ments dur­ing which fi­bre­glass pan­els were hung over the side of a pon­toon have proved their sur­face.

With the pos­i­tive re­sults of their ma­rina tri­als, Elec­tro­clear is push­ing to get this into more ap­pli­ca­tions.

“As an is­land na­tion with such strong ties to our ocean, we have a real chance here to lead the world in anti-foul­ing and biose­cu­rity,” says Walker.

“Ap­pli­ca­tions for this tech­nol­ogy seem wide spread, from boat hulls to drainage sys­tems. The way for­ward is to dive into ap­pli­ca­tions; we want this tech­nol­ogy be­ing tri­alled in aqua­cul­ture and marine in­fra­struc­ture around the coun­try.”

One of Elec­tro­clear’s goals is to de­velop a data­base of the dif­fer­ent pa­ram­e­ters that im­pact dif­fer­ent or­gan­isms in dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions. “Which means a cus­tomer may be able to come to us with a prob­lem with a 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.

As well as Walker and Il­len­berger, the com­pany in­cludes As­so­ciate Pro­fes­sor of En­gi­neer­ing Science Iain An­der­son, renowned for pi­o­neer­ing the Uni­ver­sity’s world-cham­pion, hu­man-pow­ered submarine, Tani­wha.

“New Zealand has a unique ecosys­tem, if you add an­other crea­ture from some­where else, this so­ci­ety can be very much up­set or dis­rupted,” says An­der­son.

The end goal for Elec­tro­clear is to tackle a prob­lem which is in­ter­na­tional, a prob­lem that af­fects a lot of peo­ple ev­ery­where, and make the world a bet­ter place.”

CHRISTO­PHER WALKER AND PA­TRIN IL­LEN­BERGER

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