Over the last three years, the AIRCOAT HORIZON 2020 project has been developing a foil system to be applied to ships’ hulls to help reduce emissions from ocean-going vessels. After three years of research and small-scale experiments in both laboratories and in open water, the project is ready to test the prototypes on a larger scale.
The foil system works by creating an air barrier between the ship and the water, limiting the ability for aquatic species to attach themselves to the ship. This both reduces the opportunity for fouling, which increases resistance between the ship’s hull and water, and prevents the transfer of species from their native to non-native environments. The technology also avoids the release of biocide substances of underlying coatings to the water, which can mitigate the radiation of ship noise and have detrimental effects on marine life such as cetaceans.
The project will help to understand and validate environmentally friendly initiatives within the maritime industry, paving the way for further marine research initiatives that reduce our footprint in the oceans.
The AIRCOAT technology is bio-inspired by the Salvinia effect. The naturally occurring Salvinia effect allows the plant floating fern to breath under water by maintaining a permanent layer of air around it. The AIRCOAT project intends to implement this effect on a self-adhesive foil system. It provides a prime example of a biomimetic application where technology learns from nature.
Large-scale pilots are essential to demonstrate the efficiency and industrial feasibility in operational environments. The two experiments will be done on a research vessel and a container ship. The research ship experiment aims to observe the stability of the air retention of the foil. The container ship experiment is about observing its efficiency over time. This last step is fundamental for the product before being released on the market.
Reducing the drag resistance of container ships has the potential to significantly decrease fuel consumption and emissions. According to the research project, more than 50 per cent of the energy required for propulsion – which is approximately 70 per cent of the total fuel usage – is used to overcome frictional resistance.
The research project is entering its final year and will begin open water experiments in Malta and the China Sea.