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Sea creatures get non-toxic brush-off.

Barnacles, mollusks, and other forms of sea life that take up residence on ship hulls can slow vessels by several knots, hike fuel consumption by as much as 40%, and cause corrosion. These marine animals also foul fishing nets, harbor construction, and power plant water-intake pipes. Traditional organotin or cuprous oxide paints used to battle this fouling are effective, but toxic.

The ultimate goal in the field is to develop self-cleaning coatings that shuck off foulants as a ship glides through water, notes Judith Stein of the General Electric Research and Development Center, Schenectady, N.Y., but that could be a long way off. For now, scientists are working on ways to prevent marine organisms from attaching to hulls in the first place or to make them easier to remove.

One source of these anti-foulant compounds could be the sea itself. For example, many marine sponges produce anti-fouling substances, such as nitroalkanes (which are made up of nitrogen, carbon, and hydrogen) isolated from the Okinawan sponge of the genus Theonella. Since these compounds are naturally occurring, they could be environmentally friendly.

Taking another tack to fight the marine pests, GE researchers are working on silicone-based coatings that prevent the organisms' firm attachment and thus make ship hulls and other underwater surfaces easy to clean. Stein says the beauty of these compounds is that, unlike conventional anti-foulants (which are biocides that kill organisms), they simply act as a non-toxic, slick surface that can be cleaned off with a brush, sponge, or hose.
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Title Annotation:General Electric Research and Development Center is developing silicone-based coatings for ship hulls to enable easy removal of barnacles and other sea creatures
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Jun 1, 1996
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