Biofilm research informs marine coatings design

Propeller and rudder ship in dry dock

Credit: Tverdokhlibov/GettyImages

A new device for studying slime growth is accelerating the research and design of ship hull coatings.

Biofilms are sticky layers of microorganisms, which form slimy coatings on wet surfaces such as ship hulls. They cost the shipping industry and naval fleets billions of pounds each year in cleaning costs and extra fuel due to increased drag.

Researchers at International Paint Ltd and the University of Southampton developed a device to help understand the drag caused by biofilm growth on ship hulls, using funding from BBSRC and Innovate UK. The marine biofilm flow cell is used to see how different surface coatings, such as antifouling paint, affect how biofilms grow and cause drag.

The flow cell is being used by industrial partner International Paint Ltd (part of the world’s largest paints and coatings company AkzoNobel) to speed up the testing of new antifouling coatings for ship hulls.

Key impacts arising from this project are:

  • the marine biofilm flow cell enables the study of biofilm growth and movement on different surface coatings, such as antifouling paint
  • an improved understanding of biofilm properties helps reveal how biofouling affects drag on ship hulls
  • the device makes testing and developing new hull coatings much faster.


Last updated: 11 March 2021

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