Known as biofouling, the accumulation of barnacles and other marine organisms on ships' hulls greatly decreases their hydrodynamic efficiency. This means that their engines have to work harder to move them through the water, burning more fuel and creating more CO2 emissions. Thanks to a new paint, however, removing those greeblies may soon be as simple as periodically wiping the ship's hull with a sponge.

While there are already other anti-biofouling paints on the market, many of these work by gradually secreting toxic substances that kill barnacles, mussels and other freeloaders. Unfortunately, these substances also enter the ocean, damaging the environment.

Developed by a research team at Germany's Kiel University, along with colleagues at spin-off company Phi-Stone, the new paint doesn't work that way.

It's made from a polymer composite based on polythiourethane (PTU) and specially-formed ceramic particles, which has an exceptionally smooth surface. Marine organisms can't form a permanent foothold on it, and those that temporarily do latch on are easily dislodged without damaging the paint itself.

In a field test of the technology, the paint was applied to the hull of a ship that regularly travels between Belgium and Gabon in central Africa. Even after two years, there was still a marked reduction in biofouling. The organisms that were present were quickly cleaned off using a plain sponge.

Phi-Stone is now working on a spraying technique for applying the paint over large areas.

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