The last time a battle ship was transferred to the water at the old navy yard near the central station of Amsterdam, was more than a hundred years ago. Today, as with many industrial heritage sites, the area is a creative hub for start-ups.
Micanti is one of these new companies and yet they are doing something that has been done in that place for centuries; working on the self-defense of a ship. Only this time it is not about cannons. It is about a new way to combat fouling in an eco-friendly way.
Rik Breur has a sales pitch that sticks. First of all, Micanti antifouling is not paint. To compare it, think of thin carpet with an adhesive strip. Like wallpaper, rolls of the foil are glued against the hull of a vessel. Little hairs on the surface of Micanti antifouling prevent organisms like barnacles to attach themselves on the skin of a ship. But when the advantages over traditional antifouling paint are summed up, it gets really interesting.
Micanti is environmentally friendly and that is a rare quality in the field of antifouling products. “”Everybody talks about the plastic soup in the ocean, but don’t forget that up to 60 to 70 tonne of toxic material each year end up in the sea because of use of antifouling paint,” says Breur. He invented Micanti antifouling and is, together with a group of investors, owner of the company. “These toxic substances deteriorate at a slow rate, so imagine the positive impact our product can have on the environment.”
Next to that, it also works when a vessel is moored, a promise no existing product can make. “Imagine what is growing on all those moored offshore workboats now that business is slow.” But also cargo freighters can be in one location for long times. “Like the situation in Brazil where ships sometimes have to wait for weeks to sail into the port.”
Breur looked at nature when developing Micanti antifouling. “A lot of ocean animals don’t want other organisms to grow on them.” He read a lot about marine biology and consulted biologists. Sponges combat fouling with poison, but that was not a method suitable for production. Breur soon found out that the solution was hairs. “Take a fur of a seal. No barnacle will grow on it.” This is because organisms that grow on surfaces need space to make a ‘footprint’.
A big puzzle
Choosing hairs to go on was the first step. But to make a product that prevented the creation of such footprints, took a lot of testing. Breur has a background as a researcher and started exploring the idea of a making a new kind of antifouling during his years at TNO, the leading independent research organisation in the Netherlands. “It is not just a matter of making a hairy surface. It was a big puzzle to find the right length and flexibility in combination with certain density.”
In 2012 the product was ready to hit the market. But in the first years there were start-up problems. By trial and error Micanti antifouling improved. “Since 2014 we are completely satisfied with the result of our product.” What stays is the challenge dealing with the scepticism possible clients have. Breur says it is hard to enter the market with a new product. “We do a lot of convincing before closing a deal. Luckily we now have a lot of success stories to tell.”
Normally two questions pop up when Breur and his team show Micanti antifouling. Does it really stick to the hull and what do the little hairs do to the hydrodynamics of the vessel. “When it is properly attached, Micanti antifouling will stay there for at least ten years”, says Breur. The company uses a special adhesive strip that does not fully attach when applied. This is done so adjustments can be made after a roll is put on the hull. To ensure proper adhesion, a curing time of 24 hours is recommended. “After that we guarantee that it will stay in place up to speeds of 30 knots.”
About seakeeping ability when the hull of a ship is covered with Micanti antifouling, Breur can be clear: “It is neutral if you compare it with paint.” Tests showed that the bow wave comes together behind the ship instead of spreading out. “People often think the smoother a surface, the faster it will go. But that is not the case. Think of a golf ball or the sandpapery skin of a shark.” According to Breur, in the long term hydrodynamic performance only gets better in comparison with conventional products. “There is zero fouling, also when a vessel is moored. Other methods will not achieve this result. So in the end fouling will slow them down. Because of this Micanti antifouling can, at a point, save up to thirty per cent in fuel costs.”
At the moment Micanti is, next to Europe, active in the Middle East and Singapore. “In warmer waters there is more fouling so those regions are good markets for us.” Singapore is also interesting because there are strict environmental regulations. “Our product can be removed with water at a pressure of 500 bar. Because we use no toxics, the residue after removal is easy to clean up. Good for the environment and the working conditions of the employers.”
The biggest ship with Micanti antifouling is 140 metres long and recently they covered a Turkish yacht of 40 metres. At the moment Breur is involved in the application of the product. A team of fifteen workers operate from the Netherlands. “But we are going to a situation where we only focus on selling, like paint suppliers.” But Micanti wants to be sure the product is used well. Not every painter can work with the rolls. “It requires a certain touch.” That is why Micanti gives out certificates to those who can work with their product.
Breur is confident that his product has a bright future. But it is a hard fight, he admits. “Micanti antifouling has too many advantages to fail, we believe. But we are a small company and the competition consists of several multinationals.”
This article was previously published in Maritime Holland edition #5 – 2016.