SCU team could revolutionise shipping with barnacle-beater

FANTASTIC PLASTIC: Southern Cross University polymer chemistry researcher Dr Lachlan Yee.
FANTASTIC PLASTIC: Southern Cross University polymer chemistry researcher Dr Lachlan Yee. John Waddell

SOUTHERN Cross University is cleaning up our marine environment one barnacle at a time.

 

Dr Lachlan Yee and a team of researchers at Southern Cross University's Marine and Ecology Research Centre have come up with a new environmentally friendly technology that deters algae and barnacles from settling on stationary structures, such as pipelines and jetties, allowing them to last longer without added weight, corrosion or blockages.

The technology has not yet been tested on moving objects but could have a significant impact on the boating industry as it would allow boats to be more streamlined.

Dr Yee's invention involves the use of plastic substances called polymers that have been impregnated with living bacteria sourced from the ocean.

The impregnated polymer sends out bio-degradable "chemical messages" discour- aging the growth of barnacles and algae, rather than killing them off completely.

We're trying to learn from nature and put it into human technology.

 

"This bacteria is sending out chemical communication signals that say to the algae and barnacles 'don't come here'," Dr Yee said. "It's like humans going into a room with a bad smell; it doesn't kill us, we just leave the room."

Unlike the current technology used to detract barnacles, once the impregnated polymer "expires" it becomes dilute and biodegrades, creating a sustainable ocean ecosystem.

"At the moment we use toxic chemicals, such as copper and tin, to deter algae and barnacles. The problem with this is once these chemicals fall off the surface of the rig or pipeline they continue to kill anything else they come into contact with when falling to the ocean floor."

Dr Yee said his new technology was inspired by nature.

"We came up with a solution that was friendly to the environment and mimicked what is already working in the environment naturally.

"We're trying to learn from nature and put it into human technology."

The team has tested the invention on plastic rigs in Sydney Harbour and have found it can protect floating structures for up to two months.



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