BioFREE: Biofouling of Renewable Energy Environments (Marine)

Lead Research Organisation: Heriot-Watt University
Department Name: Sch of Energy, Geosci, Infrast & Society


As part of ongoing UK commitments to produce electricity from renewable energy sources, Orkney waters have been targeted for large-scale deployment of marine energy devices. Success of the marine renewable energy (MRE) industry is dependent upon maximising energy capture and minimising down-time. Device performance and sensor accuracy are negatively impacted by the growth of fouling organisms, leading to reduced efficiency and reliability; anti-fouling strategies are costly and time consuming. Biofouling also reduces accuracy of data buoys and sensors used to assess the hydrodynamic resource and device performance.

While biofouling has been a recognised problem for centuries, deployment of MRE devices creates several unique issues; a paucity of published studies exists concerning biofouling in this sector. Additional concerns exist over the role that MRE infrastructure may play as 'stepping-stones' promoting the spread of nuisance species. With a general trend towards stricter environmental controls, it is essential that the MRE industry demonstrate commitments that minimise disturbance and promote positive impacts. Given small margins for MRE, there are potentially substantive benefits from tackling biofouling in terms of investor confidence.

BioFREE is a multi-disciplinary project that partners HWU with EMEC to address these issues by detailed characterisation of the biofouling communities from multiple habitats used by the MRE sector, and monitoring benthic impacts following deployment and decommissioning. Studies will utilise surveys, settlement panels, and video imagery methodologies, and include data collected by global partners. Surveys will be conducted in high-energy environments that presently lack sufficient scientific study and will include experimental testing of anti-fouling coatings in habitats targeted by the MRE sector. As part of an industry-led initiative to identify and promote positive impacts, surveys on moorings will examine habitat provisioning for commercially valuable species potentially benefiting from device deployments, as well as monitoring benthic recovery rate following decommissioning.

Site-specific assessment of foulants and their timings is necessary to tailor effective local solutions to improve energy capture. Assessment of biofouling in habitats not previously exploited for human use is necessary to inform the MRE sector of concerns and provide anti-fouling strategies.These findings will allow recommendations for test centres and developers to minimise the impacts of fouling, chiefly through selective scheduling of deployments and maintenance, in different habitats, to times when the settlement of fouling organisms will be minimal or their removal will be least costly. BioFREE will gather biofouling and ecological data during EMEC operations with additional partners participating in the completion of several key objectives.

Working with test centres around the globe, BioFREE will create a workable SOP designed to facilitate data collection using practical and effective methods. The lead role of EMEC as representative of MRE developers in the sector will allow promotion of project outputs within the MRE industry and beyond. Dissemination of BioFREE findings will include production of training materials and technical reports, delivered through webinars and presentations, to the MRE industry and scientific community. As commitment to generating electricity from renewable sources increases, understanding the effects of biofouling to this industry will become increasingly important. Multi-disciplinary studies combining biological with engineering and hydrodynamic expertise will help achieve maximum capture of energy from renewable sources while ensuring minimum ecological impacts following deployment.
Description Proven success of BioFREE monitoring and testing system which can now be used to provide detailed characterisation anywhere and at any chosen deployment;
Fouling is highly specific to location;
Fouling varies depending on substrate type;
Fouling assemblages are highly predictable based on hydrodynamic conditions and deployment depth;
Evidence gathered has provided examples of profound levels of fouling occurring over a relatively short period of time, depending on seasonality and succession;
No evidence of MNNS at high energy test sites in Orkney;
Anti-fouling coatings may be most effective at preventing fouling in high current flow conditions;
Orientation of the substrate may be an important means to better understand how of hydrodynamic conditions favoured certain key foulants;
Sensor functioning (critical in assessments of resource and device performance) may be compromised by fouling;
Marked seasonality of fouling helps determine periods of greatest fouling risk from key organisms;
Scheduling deployment and maintenance operations in a targeted manner may be an effective means to minimise fouling impacts.
Exploitation Route Strong collaborations continue with international partners;
Continued studies with the European Marine Energy Centre;
Reports and publications have and will continue to be shared on this area.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Energy,Environment,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

Description Providing guidance to marine renewable energy sector; Providing guidance to antifouling and anticorrosion coating manufacturers
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Energy,Environment,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology
Impact Types Economic

Description BioFREE equipment support
Amount £14,000 (GBP)
Organisation INTERREG IIIC North 
Sector Public
Country France
Start 05/2018 
End 05/2019
Description BioFREE (Biofouling in Renewable Energy Environments) - OES-Environmental Webinar Series 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact The BioFREE (Biofouling in Renewable Energy Environments) project has commenced data collection from biofouling monitoring systems deployed across international marine renewable energy (MRE) test centres. This webinar will discuss current environmental research efforts in relation to tackling biofouling.

Presenters from European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC), Heriot-Watt University-International Centre for Island Technology, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and Whitford Ltd will focus discussion on both micro- and macrofouling as well as industry perspectives on antifouling and anticorrosion coatings
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019