Turning the tide: AkzoNobel and Philips discuss pioneering fouling control solution

19 May 2023

Back in April, AkzoNobel and Philips announced that Damen Shipyards had joined their efforts to further develop a pioneering fouling control solution that the paint manufacturer and technology giant have been collaborating on. PPCJ spoke to AkzoNobel’s Ralph Slikkerveer, R&D Director for Marine, Protective and Yacht Coatings  and Rick Dumont, Business Development, Philips IP&S, about the pros and cons of the technology and its future potential. 

The technology that AkzoNobel and Philips are developing integrates UV-C light-emitting diodes (LEDs) in a coating scheme that emits just enough light to provide total prevention of bio-fouling accumulation on the protected area to keep ships’ underwater hulls clean.

Following on from successful trials, the companies are now looking to scale this technology and bring it to market, with the help of Damen Shipyards. The goal is to create a fully biocide-free fouling control solution that will provide ground-breaking performance, leading to substantial economic and environmental benefits.

"It’s a challenging project, but it’s also a fantastic example of the benefits of collaborative innovation.  By working together as a strong partnership of three complementary Dutch companies, we’re confident we can combine our capabilities to deliver a sustainable solution that could completely revolutionise the fouling control industry."Ralph Slikkerveer, Research and Development Director for Marine, Protective and Yacht Coatings at AkzoNobel.

How did the partnership between AkzoNobel and Philips first come about? What was the UV-C technology being used for originally and who had the idea of trialling it as a marine antifouling application? 

Ralph Slikkerveer, AkzoNobel: The idea comes from Philips, who had been experimenting with UV-C before and were exploring wider opportunities. They had been working in the area of UV-C technology for a number of years and developed the first applications related to the use of UV-C for microbial control. UV-C is already used for sterilisation of a number of environments and surfaces, such as swimming pools, healthcare and domestic appliances.

Rick Dumont, Philips: These applications either use “volume cleaning” of air or water or surface cleaning by outside UV-C radiation, rather than “inside-out” radiation that requires only extremely low light intensities and, therefore, is very power efficient.

RS, AkzoNobel: In a meeting between AkzoNobel and Philips in 2016 we discussed the idea that Philips had of applying the UV-C technology for the control of fouling (or elimination of the threat of fouling) on the underwater surfaces of ships. The rest, as they say, is history.

Can you take us through the process of how the technology works, how it will be applied to ships’ hulls and how it differs to conventional anti-fouling coatings? 

RS, AkzoNobel: The approach is based on the use of ultraviolet (UV) light, which is known to have a sterilising effect on biological organisms. This technology concept integrates UV-C light emitting diodes in a protective coating scheme in such a way that it allows for the UV light to be emitted from the coating surface, providing the total prevention of biofouling accumulation on the surface of the protected area. The system is completely free of biocides and uses low intensity LEDs, exposing only those fouling organisms in very close proximity to the surface to a dose of UV-C light.  We are collaborating with Damen Shipyards, which is bringing its vital expertise in areas such as vessel integration. Damen is best positioned to work on the application onto the ships.

What are the main benefits to using the UV-C light technology? What have the trial results shown so far? 

RS, Akzo: The results are very promising.

RD, Philips: It’s a technology that is completely fouling-free after long exposure times of five years of more to fouling, hence providing evidence that the basic principle can also be applied for keeping surfaces completely clean for a much longer period of time without degradation of the anti-fouling effect, only depending on the operating life of the product.

RS, AkzoNobel: Here’s a summary of the performance demonstrated to date:

  • Fully biocide-free, providing complete fouling control to ship and vessel owners;
  • Smoother surface (lower measured roughness) than any existing coating system;
  • Fouling free and smooth surface contribute to reduced drag, reduced powering requirements and therefore, lower fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions;
  • The total control of biofouling delivers substantial economic and environmental benefits;
  • The total control of biofouling represents a step change improvement in fouling control performance vs. the current technology.

READ MORE: Akzonobel and Philips welcome Damen Shipyards to pioneering antifouling partnership

Are there any drawbacks that you have encountered so far, in developing this technology? 

RS, AkzoNobel: The technology itself is still quite costly and not yet durable enough to last the full maintenance cycles for marine. So, further work needs to be done in order to scale it up and bring it to market. And, because this is a step change improvement in fouling, new suppliers needed to be taken along during the development and integration of the solution, as well as new testing methods and protocols being developed.

How long do you believe the solution will last for, before it needs to be ‘reapplied’?  

RS, AkzoNobel: We’re aiming for the normal maintenance cycles and potentially even longer but we’re not there yet. The lifetime of the UV-C LEDs is currently around 50K hours. As the technology is still relatively new, it’s anticipated that longer life UV-C LEDs will be developed to satisfy the need for total fouling protection over a number of dry dock cycles. The aim is to achieve an operational lifetime of about 15 years.

RD, Philips: The UV-C LED technology development roadmaps show extension of the lifetime to over 100K hours, enabling a 15 year operating life. This is also enabled by the operation of the UV-C LEDs at very low power levels required to achieve the full anti-fouling effect. This provides the additional benefit of a very low power consumption required to operate a full vessel anti-fouling protection, further contributing to the sustainable nature of this technology.

Having recently partnered with Damen Shipyards, do you have a timeframe in mind in terms of when you will be able to commercially sell the product?  

RS, AkzoNobel: UV-C LED fouling prevention is still in the research and development phase. With Damen now on-board, we’re scaling up the size of the applications to enable full protection of vessels with an underwater surface of over 10 acres (the area of a soccer field!) and building a knowledge base for integrating the solution on vessels. However, the project partners are realistic and we will no doubt encounter challenges as we scale. We can’t at this stage give a date for when the technology will be commercially available. The team is working hard to bring this exciting innovation to the market as soon as possible.

You must be proud that all three companies involved are from the Netherlands – the country already has a great sustainability track record in terms of things like recycling rates, renewable energy, etc. Do you think being based in the Netherlands helps companies to think about sustainability as more of a priority? 

RS, AkzoNobel: Damen, Phillips and AkzoNobel are all global companies and are ideally suited to work together in order to develop a total fouling control solution, utilising the UV-C technology. We’re all able to draw on expertise and knowledge from across our global networks.

It’s a challenging project, but it’s also a fantastic example of the benefits of collaborative innovation.  By working together as a strong partnership of three complementary Dutch companies, we’re confident we can combine our capabilities to deliver a sustainable solution that could completely revolutionise the fouling control industry.

READ MORE: Focus on marine: Hempel dives into sustainability collaboration

Regulations and legislation are often cited as the main challenge when developing a coating, especially in the marine coatings industry. Will the use of UV-C technology in this solution make that aspect easier, harder, or will it be the same?  

RS, AkzoNobel: UV-C has its own challenges with respect to product safety and we’re monitoring continuously to make sure we keep the challenges in hand. The regulations and legislation for the use of UV-C in a marine environment, for example, are certainly different from conventional coatings. However, the system will still need to be compliant with the IMO AFS Convention. We’re working with class societies and external bodies to demonstrate that UV-C will be safe to use for the purposes of fouling control and that the system itself will not interfere with the safe operation of the vessel. We’re confident that when we are ready to launch that all requirements will be satisfied and independently proven.

Does AkzoNobel have any plans to use this technology in other products? Could it potentially have applications in other sectors that need to ‘stay clean’, such as industrial coatings for hospitals, schools etc? 

RS, AkzoNobel: Our initial focus is on integration of UV-C LED fouling control technology to new and existing vessels. There could well be other applications of the technology in the marine market and potentially other areas in the future, but for now our focus is establishing the initial end-use.

RD, Philips: The Philips technology is certainly applicable to other sectors and the inside-out illumination provides options for new formfactors that are easy to use, are low power and are safe to touch.

READ MORE: Focus on marine: Australia leads the way in marine coatings inspired by nature

< Previous article

Focus on antimicrobial: Smart coatings for surgical orthopaedic implants

Next article >

ChatGPT and the paint industry: Supplying all the answers?