Specialized seeds can really float your boat

Jul 04, 2011
Specialized seeds can really float your boat
The evolution of a seed-inspired anti-fouling coating. From extreme left: Dypsis rivularis seeds; Electron microscope image of the seed surface; Electron microscope image of the artificial surface based on the seeds; Test panel of artificial surface after 12 weeks in the North Sea, showing minimal fouling. Credit: Biomimetics-Innovation-Centre (B-I-C), University of Applied Sciences.

A new artificial surface inspired by floating seeds, which could provide an alternative to the toxic paints currently used to prevent fouling on ship hulls, has been developed by German scientists.

Scientists from the Biomimetics-Innovation-Centre have developed a new anti-fouling surface based on a seed from a species of palm tree. "These have which are dispersed by the . As it is an advantage for these seeds to remain free of fouling to allow them to disperse further, we guessed they might have specialised surfaces we could mimic," explains Katrin Mühlenbruch, a PhD researcher who is presenting this work at the Society for Experimental Biology Annual Conference in Glasgow on the 4th of July 2011.

The researchers floated seeds from 50 species in the North Sea for 12 weeks. The seeds of 12 species showed no fouling at all. "We then began by examining the micro-structure of the seeds' surfaces, to see if we could translate them into an artificial surface. The seeds we chose to mimic had a hairy-like structure," says Ms. Mühlenbruch. "This structure might be especially good at preventing fouling because the fibres constantly move, preventing marine organisms from finding a place to settle."

Using a silicone base the scientists created an artificial surface similar to the seeds, with fibres covering the surface. Currently the new surface is being trialled by floating it in the sea. "Initial results are quite good," says Ms. Mühlenbruch. "But we still have a long way to go"

Fouling by seaweeds and marine animals is a problem for the shipping industry, resulting in increased fuel costs. Currently the only solutions are highly toxic and environmentally damaging marine paints which are specifically designed to leach biocides to prevent organisms settling on the hull. "Our aim is to provide a new toxin-free and bio-inspired ship coating," says Ms. Mühlenbruch. "This would prevent environmental damage while allowing ships to operate efficiently."

Future work will include analysing the chemical composition of the seeds' , to find out whether this adds to their anti-fouling properties.

Explore further: Does that "green" plasticiser make my PVC flexible enough for you?

Related Stories

Shark skin saves naval industry money

Jul 15, 2005

Covering ship hulls with artificial shark skin could help ships sailing smoothly. The growth of marine organisms such as barnacles on ship hulls is a major cause of increased energy costs in the naval industry. Shark skin ...

First images of barnacle larva's footprint

Oct 27, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- The fouling or growth of sea organisms, such as barnacles, on ships’ hulls causes damage costing many billions of euros annually. In order to prevent this fouling, In Yee Phang of the University ...

Gene that causes barnacles to avoid ship hulls identified

Aug 16, 2010

The substance medetomidine has proved effective in preventing fouling of ship bottoms. Researchers at the University of Gothenburg have now identified the gene that causes the barnacle to react to the substance, ...

Barnacles prove hard to please when house-hunting

Nov 12, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- It’s a tough life out at sea so you might think a small crustacean would be happy to take what it can get when it comes to finding a home - not the humble barnacle.

Recommended for you

Aluminum clusters shut down molecular fuel factory

53 minutes ago

Despite decades of industrial use, the exact chemical transformations occurring within zeolites, a common material used in the conversion of oil to gasoline, remain poorly understood. Now scientists have ...

New catalyst does more with less platinum

1 hour ago

Platinum is a highly reactive and in-demand catalyst across the chemical and energy industries, but a team of University of Wisconsin-Madison and Georgia Institute of Technology scientists could reduce the ...

Learning from biology to accelerate discovery

5 hours ago

A spider's web is one of the most intricate constructions in nature, but its precious silk has more than one use. Silk threads can be used as draglines, guidelines, anchors, pheromonal trails, nest lining, ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.