Shipping invention cleans up
28 August 2015
New environmental laws changed the way Western Australia’s shipping industry cleaned its hulls. Even without that incentive, this innovation was a clear win-win.
It’s the shipping industry’s invisible but costly problem. The build-up of plants, shellfish and other organisms that grow on ships’ hulls, known as bifouling. Frictional drag from biofouling can increase a ship’s fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by up to 40%. Foreign organisms brought into Australian waters threaten the survival of local marine life and habitats. And the hull cleaning process itself increases the risk of contaminating water with anti-fouling paint.
The WA Department of Fisheries banned in-water hull cleaning in 1997, forcing the cleaning offshore, further increasing time and costs. But in 2011 they called for trials of in-water hull cleaning under tightly regulated conditions, including no damage to marine life.
WA-based commercial diving company GRD Franmarine was up for the challenge. With a prototype already in the works, Managing Director Roger Dyhrberg and his team launched Envirocart, an underwater vacuum that removes biofouling without touching a ship’s hull. Using a series of spinning blades that run millimetres away from the hull, the Envirocart captures and pumps the biofouling through a filter that is then disinfected using UV light.
With the global potential for such a product, GRD Franmarine needed a carefully thought out IP strategy. Griffith Hack Patent Attorney Steven Starkie says the important thing was to make sure the key commercially important feature of the Envirocart was placed at the heart of the protection strategy, with sufficient flexibility in the patent application process for as long as possible during the prototype stage.
As a result, it will be difficult for a competitor to replicate the performance of the Envirocart without contravening Franmarine’s IP, and the company is now in a better position to determine the extent of national filings because it is armed with more information about the commercial viability of Envirocart.
Extensive trials have proven Envirocart’s effectiveness and the product has won a slew of innovation and environment awards. With strong interest from diving companies, major shipping operators and the oil and gas industry worldwide, GRD Franmarine has already completed construction of the first full scale system capable of cleaning a 280 metre vessel in 12 hours.