Keeping boats afloat while cleaning the environment

Backed by Ryan Lower
Northeastern University
Worcester, Massachusetts
EngineeringMaterials Science
Open Access
Raised of $12,000 Goal
Ended on 9/14/14
Campaign Ended
  • $25
  • 1%
  • Finished
    on 9/14/14

About This Project

The growth of algae, barnacles, bacteria, and other marine life onto salt and fresh water boats damages the environment. It also increases the weight of boats leading to more fuel use. Copper has been used to reduce marine life growth on boats, but is toxic.
This project will:
1) Develop a new safe material to coat surfaces placed in water to reduce marine life growth and clean the environment, and
2) Test such surfaces using real-life conditions

Ask the Scientists

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What is the context of this research?

Keeping marine life from growing on boats, docks, and anything placed in fresh and salt water has been a problem for centuries. This growth of marine life adds costs to the boating industry due to excessive cleaning and degradation of boating materials. Moreover, it adds fuel costs by increasing the weight of vessels and the drag placed on boats. Environmentally, it is a problem.

Solutions to keeping marine biofouling from occurring has relied on the use of materials known to be toxic to marine life, such as copper. Legislation in California (SB 623) has led the way to ban these substances as they are known to kill marine life.

This proposal will take a fresh new approach to this old problem and develop a healthy solution to reducing biofouling on marine vessels: selenium nanoparticles.

What is the significance of this project?

Selenium is a natural material common to the diet of many organisms. Such organisms usually require upwards of 50 micrograms per day to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Since preliminary data obtained by the investigator of this proposal has shown that one only needs 5 nanograms or less per square meter to reduce biofouling of materials used in everyday life, the amount of selenium needed is much less than our (and marine life) dietary intake.

The video shows the strong coating of materials used in everyday life with selenium nanoparticles. As can be seen this is a quick, cheap (costing $0.01 per 100 square meters), and effective coating process. Nanoparticles of selenium are important since they increase the surface area to reduce biofouling. Coating color can be easily controlled.

What are the goals of the project?

While the investigators of this proposal have already demonstrated the elimination of bacteria from paper towels, bed railings, door knobs, computer touch screens, computer keyboards, and many other products, we have not yet tested marine vessels.

For this, we will:

  1. coat boat hulls composed of a variety of different materials, with selenium nanoparticles using the process shown in the video,
  2. test the ability of the materials to reduce the growth of common marine life, and
  3. test the toxicity of the materials to common marine life.

Our end goal is to identify the selenium nanoparticle coating concentration to eliminate biofouling of marine vessels while remaining safe and cleaning marine life. We will also ensure a strong coating that will not be removed during use. We will publish our results.


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Unfortunately, this type of research is not commonly funded by our traditional funding agencies. We have submitted several research grants to support this work, but we have received comments that it is too applied (not fundamental enough) and does not fit into an existing area of funding. Moreover, the research is not far enough along for industry funding as we do not have preliminary data concerning coating of marine vessel materials. We are quite confident that if funded we will attract the attention of industry or entrepreneurs to commercialize this work.

We request $12,000 dollars in total for this project. Graduate student support is requested to complete this research ($7,500). Moreover, we request $,3000 for the cost of marine vessel materials and $1,500 for the cost to determine marine life toxicity and adhesion to the selenium nanoparticle coated materials.

Meet the Team

Thomas Webster
Thomas Webster

Team Bio

My degrees are in chemical engineering from the University of Pittsburgh (B.S., 1995) and in biomedical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (M.S., 1997; Ph.D., 2000). I am currently the Department Chair and Professor of Chemical Engineering at Northeastern University in Boston. My research explores the use of nanotechnology in numerous applications.

I enjoy developing environmentally safe, non-toxic materials, for use in a wide range of applications. I have completed extensive studies on the use of nanophase materials to regenerate tissues and I have graduated/supervised over 109 visiting faculty, clinical fellows, post-doctoral students, and thesis completing B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. students. My research on nanomedicine has received attention in recent media publications including MSNBC, NBC Nightly News, PBS DragonFly TV, ABC Nightly News, Fox News and the Weather Channel. I am currently the President-elect of the U.S. Society for Biomaterials.

Additional Information

These images show our ability to coat numerous materials with natural healthy nanostructured selenium to decrease bacteria growth. As an example, we coated paper towels with selenium to decrease bacteria growth since it has been shown that bacteria continues to grow on paper towels once they are thrown away, causing a contamination problem in hospitals and other areas.

Figure 1: A) Selenium coated paper towels and B) Plain paper towels.

Figure 2: The growth of Staphylococcus aureus on the surface of paper towels. There was about 90% inhibition on bacteria growth compared with uncoated paper towels. Data=Mean ± standard deviation, n=3; *, **, ***p<0.02 compared with the control group (uncoated paper) after either 24, 48 or 72 hours.

Figure 3: The growth of Staphylococcus epidermidis on the surface of paper towels. There was more than 90% inhibition on bacteria growth compared with uncoated paper towels. Data=Mean ± standard deviation, n=3; *, **, ***p<0.05 compared with the control group (uncoated paper) after either 24, 48 or 72 hours.

Similar results have been observed for other bacteria and other materials including door knobs, bed railings, computer keyboards, computers, etc. Thus, we are confident given the resources that we can coat numerous marine vessels to eliminate biofouling using this safe, non-toxic material, which would be a great advantage over the current use of toxic copper.

Project Backers

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