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Home > Press > Biocide-free antifouling coatings

BASF scientists cooperate on EU project “AMBIO”

Biocide-free antifouling coatings thanks to nanostructured surfaces

August 18, 2005

The EU research project “AMBIO” is investigating how to prevent the buildup of organisms on surfaces under marine conditions, for example on ships’ hulls. Scientists from BASF are collaborating on this project with 30 partners from business and science from 14 countries. The five-year project was launched in March 2005, and involves a total budget of €17.9 million, of which €11.9 million will be provided by the European Union. The goal of the AMBIO project (Advanced Nanostructured Surfaces for the Control of Biofouling) is to use nanostructuring to significantly reduce the adhesion of organisms to surfaces in aquatic environments, and thus control the fouling process without the use of biocides.

Biofouling is an issue with both environmental and economic relevance. For example, ships with fouled hulls require 40 percent more fossil fuel to travel at the same speed as unfouled vessels. This significantly increases emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. The current state of the art is to use controversial biocides such as copper and organotin compounds that prevent fouling by killing the organisms. Further examples of situations where biofouling may be a problem are heat exchangers in desalination or power plants and oceanographic sensors. The AMBIO project constitutes a novel approach that dispenses with the use of biocides and aims to permanently minimize the physical adhesion of organisms to surfaces: Organisms such as algae and mussels first explore surfaces to select a suitable site on which to settle. Once they have found a suitable site, they excrete a biological adhesive to fix themselves permanently.

Dr. Harald Keller, a scientist in BASF’s polymer research, explains how the AMBIO team aims to control the complex biofouling process: “The nanostructuring of the surface alters the wetting properties and is intended to signal that the site is not suitable for the organisms to settle.” Keller is involved in the synthesis of new, nanostructured polymers that are stable under marine conditions. The polymer physics department, which is responsible for analyzing and visualizing the surfaces, characterizes the developed coatings and develops new approaches in close cooperation with the synthesis labs.

The position of European companies as global market leaders in the area of antifouling coatings is under threat from the forthcoming EUwide ban on the organotin compounds currently used as biocides. Although no alternatives to the use of biocides are available at present, developments in nanotechnology mean that the creation of nanostructured surfaces could offer an innovative and environmentally friendly solution to the problem of biofouling. “The AMBIO project is interesting for BASF because it offers the possibility of developing the trendsetting technology of nanostructuring in a transnational project with leading scientists. At the same time, the use of our innovative products contributes to sustainable development,” says Dr. Ekaterina Helwig, who coordinates BASF’s involvement in EU projects in the company’s university relations and research planning unit.

Further information on the AMBIO project is available at


About BASF:
BASF is the world’s leading chemical company: The Chemical Company. Its portfolio ranges from chemicals, plastics, performance products, agricultural products and fine chemicals to crude oil and natural gas. As a reliable partner to virtually all industries, BASF’s intelligent solutions and high-value products help its customers to be more successful. BASF develops new technologies and uses them to open up additional market opportunities. It combines economic success with environmental protection and social responsibility, thus contributing to a better future. In 2004, BASF had approximately 82,000 employees and posted sales of more than €37 billion. BASF shares are traded on the stock exchanges in Frankfurt (BAS), London (BFA), New York (BF), Paris (BA) and Zurich (AN).

For more information, please visit

Dr. Melanie Urtel
Phone: +49 621 60-92974
Fax: +49 621 60-92693

Copyright © BASF

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