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Barnacles and the English language

September 19, 2011

In this article, the Economist, half jokingly, partly attributes the rise of the British empire and its supremacy over the French navy in the late 18th and early 19th centuries to the use of copper plates on ship hulls to get rid of barnacles, clams and mussels.  The effectiveness of using copper to reduce ship fouling can not only be noticed in that the world speaks English and not French. It also clear when trying to replace it. To this day copper paint and other extremely toxic substances such as tri-butyl tin are the most effective ways to get rid of the unwanted plants and animals on our ships. The toxicity of copper and other substances used for this purpose has rendered them banned in many countries and scientists and researchers are trying to come up with good, non-toxic replacements. Much is at stake here. The costs of fouling are huge, a heavily affected ship consumes up to 40 percent more fuel, something that also increases climate emissions. The article cites avermectins (antiparasite agents), fluoropolymers, capsaicin (the active ingredient of hot peppers) and THC (the active ingredient of cannabis) as possible options.

When the Sea of Inventions database is launched in October, we will present around 1000 patent applications trying to solve the fouling problem. This will provide useful information on the methods that have already been tried, some of them successfully, others less so. Hopefully, this will make the job somewhat easier for those who are trying to develop the anti-fouling paint that is both effective and non-toxic. And as the Economist says, whoever does, is likely to make a fortune.

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