Clean ship hulls: Development of a gentle laser cleaning process for underwater use

Laser-treated samples in the field test: Material samples can be tested under real conditions on the floating platform of Fraunhofer IFAM. (Photo: Fraunhofer IFAM)

Testing of anti-fouling coatings on the Helgoland test stand for static fouling tests by Fraunhofer IFAM. (Photo: Fraunhofer IFAM)

Damaging biofouling and protecting the underlying paint layer: Among other things, a blue laser shall be tested for its suitability. (Photo: Laserline GmbH)

Marine fouling on ship hulls is a major problem for the industry. This so-called biofouling increases the flow resistance and thereby the fuel consumption and the emissions. The Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) therefore wants to develop a laser-based cleaning process together with Laserline GmbH and the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Applied Materials Research IFAM to gently and efficiently remove the vegetation without damaging the underlying coating.

In addition to ship hulls, other maritime technical surfaces, such as the foundation structures of offshore wind energy, gas and oil platforms, sheet piling in ports, tidal power plants or aquaculture network cages are also affected by biofouling. In the “FoulLas” research project, the project partners now want to use laser radiation to kill and remove the vegetation underwater in a way that is environmentally friendly and safe on the surface. The paint-based antifouling and corrosion protection systems as well as the material layers themselves should not be damaged.

Laser destroys fouling - current cleans ship
The research partners are developing a process in which the cells are damaged in such a way that, ideally, the water flow washes away the remaining material.

Compared to mechanical cleaning processes, it should be possible to clean ships more efficiently and more gently, and thus to keep the flow resistance low. This would significantly reduce fuel consumption and ultimately emissions.

For realistic investigations, the tests are carried out in the south harbor on the island of Helgoland, where Fraunhofer IFAM operates a test bench for growth tests. During the multi-year project period, seasonal influences can also be mapped in the real laboratory.

About FoulLas
The project "Fouling removal of maritime surfaces using laser radiation underwater - FoulLas" is being carried out by the Laserline GmbH, the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials IFAM and the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH). The FoulLas project is funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) via the project coordinator Jülich under the grant number 03SX489.

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Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH)

As an independent, non-profit research institute, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) stands for innovative research, development and consulting. The LZH is supported by the Niedersachsen Ministry of Economic Affairs, Employment, Transport and Digitalisation and is dedicated to the selfless promotion of applied research in the field of photonics and laser technology. Founded in 1986, over 170 employees are now working for the LZH.

The focus of the LZH lies on the fields of optical components and systems, optical production technologies, and biomedical photonics. Interdisciplinary cooperation between natural scientists and mechanical engineers makes innovative approaches to challenges from the most different areas possible: from the development of components for specific laser systems to process developments for the most diverse laser applications, for example for medical technology or lightweight construction in the automotive sector. Eighteen spin off companies have emerged from the LZH up to now. Thus, the LZH has created a strong transfer between fundamental science, application oriented research, and industry.

Fraunhofer-Institut für Fertigungstechnik und Angewandte Materialforschung (IFAM)
The Fraunhofer IFAM is one of the most important research institutions in Europe for adhesive bonding technology, surfaces, shaping and functional materials. At the institute’s six locations Bremen, Dresden, Oldenburg, Stade, Wolfsburg and Braunschweig as well as at the Test Center for Martime Technologies on Helgoland scientific excellence, a focus on the application of technology, measurable utility for customers and ensuring the highest quality are the core guidelines of the institute.

Currently, more than 680 employees, working in over 20 departments and working groups, combine their broad technological and scientific knowledge and expertise into  core competencies: Metallic Materials; Polymeric Materials; Surface Technology; Adhesive Bonding; Shaping and Functionalization; Electromobility; and Automation and Digitalization. These core competencies - both individually and in combination with each other – are not only the basis of our strong position in the research market but also of future-forward developments that will be useful for society. Most of the products, processes, and technologies are for sectors where sustainability is particularly important, namely for the aviation industry, automotive sector, energy technologies, medical technology and life sciences and maritime technologies.

Laserline GmbH
Worldwide, Laserline is one of the leading manufacturers of diode laser beam sources for material processing in the field of thermal processes such as welding, brazing, hardening, generative processes and coating. In addition to diode laser beam sources, Laserline also develops and sells custom processing optics. Diode lasers and processing optics are used in production processes worldwide and demonstrate their performance and reliability. Laserline aims at the creative and consequent implementation of new ideas in industrial innovations. Today, tailor-made system solutions are developed that work economically reliably even under difficult production conditions.