- Focusing efforts where we make most impact
- REACH compliance – an Agency priority for 2019
- Reducing microplastic emissions by 400 000 tonnes over the next 20 years
- Five cobalt salts proposed for restriction
- Overcoming a substitution challenge: antifouling
- A case study from Cameroon: When chemicals escape control
- Mapping plastic additives
- Research on the safety of nanomaterials: beyond Horizon 2020
- Guest column: Protecting consumers against endocrine disruptors must be a top priority for the EU in 2019
- Do it yourself – but safety first
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Article related to: Biocides
Overcoming a substitution challenge: antifouling
Boat owners can use antifouling paints to prevent fouling of surfaces by aquatic organisms. These biocides have commonly been copper-based, but in recent years, a variety of innovative and more sustainable solutions have appeared on the market. Despite their availability, the new products are not yet as widespread as their more traditional counterparts.
Setting out to tackle the challenge of substituting copper-based antifouling paints, on 5 October 2018, the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management held the ‘Innovation Workshop on Safer and Sustainable Antifouling’ in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Focused on uses in recreational boats and marinas, the workshop brought together the entire supply chain: producers of traditional antifouling paints, producers of alternatives, marina owners, boat users, authorities and academia. The event was a good example of a way in which to work on a substitution case.
The workshop focused on four main themes: user expectations, the current alternatives to antifouling paints, the challenges related to their use, and the next steps needed to increase the use of alternatives.
New antifouling technologies
All boat owners expect the same performance from antifouling products: they want to avoid growth on their boat, as it reduces the boat’s speed, increases fuel use and damages the surfaces.
The traditional solution to fouling is a paint that contains copper as the main active ingredient to fight off fouling organisms. Several copper compounds have been approved under the Biocidal Products Regulation for use in antifouling products. However, biocidal products used for antifouling containing these active substances are still under evaluation by different Member States. In the near future Member States will have to decide if the use of these products can continue to be allowed. Individual Member States can decide to take a stricter approach on their own markets.
Both chemical and non-chemical alternatives to the copper-based products exist, addressing the fouling issue in different ways. Alternative technologies include hard coatings, ultrasonic systems, self-cleaning and repellent surfaces, and surfaces with spines that prevent organisms from attaching themselves to the boat.
Alternatives need endorsement
All through the workshop, participants raised the need for independent and objective evidence of the effectiveness of the alternatives. In the absence of clear and reliable information on the effectiveness of products, boat owners hesitate to try out different alternatives when doing so could end up being expensive.
As customers may find it difficult to trust performance claims made by manufacturers about their own products, standardised test results provided by a neutral party would be needed. In addition, performance tests would have to be designed also for the alternatives, rather than just for biocidal antifouling products, as is currently often the case.
Workshop participants noted that while they need a product that protects their boat, they would prefer a product with no environmental impact. This said, there may not be enough awareness in the boating community about the alternatives to copper-based antifouling products.
Nonetheless, there have also been positive results in the implementation of substitution. The Dutch Navy has run its own testing of alternative antifouling products and got positive results with foul-release coatings. As a result, the Dutch navy has been phasing out copper-based coatings on all their vessels.
Boat owners need cost-effective solutions
Cost-effectiveness was one of the main issues brought up in the workshop discussions on boat owner expectations for antifouling products. Many of the current alternatives are seen as expensive, and even more so when they need to be applied by someone else. To convince boat owners that purchasing an antifouling service from a professional is the best option, evidence of cost-effectiveness is needed.
There are different ways of calculating the cost of antifouling. For example, if you calculate the cost per litre of an alternative product, the resulting figure may seem high. However, if you were to look at the cost per area covered or at how frequently you would need to apply the product, the overall cost may end up being lower in the long run.
So, switching to a new technology may cost more upfront, but yield savings overall.
Setting up independent and reliable testing
One of the main outcomes of the workshop organised by the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management was a commitment to carry out performance testing of the antifouling alternatives. Importantly, it was also agreed that the testing should be carried out jointly with stakeholders, to make sure the results are as reliable and neutral as possible.
The Dutch Ministry has requested an organisation that represents boat builders, boat owners and marina owners to run scientific tests to compare the performance of the alternative systems. They will also look at the costs of the alternatives per year throughout their lifetime. The results of the testing will be documented and made available to boat owners so that they can make better-informed decisions.
The Ministry is also looking at how to overcome practical issues preventing the use of alternatives, especially regarding coatings that do not prevent fouling but make the boat easier to clean. In many cases, marinas do not have cleaning facilities in place yet. In such a situation, it may well be that boat owners will only buy alternative solutions requiring cleaning installations once these installations are made available, and marinas will make them available only if boat owners already use the alternative coatings. To tackle this, the Ministry is consulting the different parties on how to break the deadlock.
Substitution in biocides
The EU's system for biocidal substances and products has mechanisms in place to encourage the substitution of active substances of concern and products that contain them. For active substances identified as candidates for substitution, ECHA launches calls to find alternatives. For biocidal products containing such active substances, authorities assess the availability of alternative products on the market before authorising the products for use.
Toolkit for tackling a substitution challenge with stakeholders
Text by Veera Saari
Published on: 21 February 2019
Top image: © Pixabay/Tama66
Updated on: 22 February 2019. The paragraph starting with "The traditional solution to fouling is a paint that contains copper [...]" was edited to remove the incorrect statement that copper would be under assessment in the EU for antifouling use. The updated text clarifies that several copper compounds have already been approved under the Biocidal Products Regulation for use in antifouling products but biocidal products used for antifouling containing these active substances are still under evaluation by different Member States.
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