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15 May 2019
UWC researchers developing environmentally-friendly antifouling protection

(Published - 15 May 2019)

Researchers from the University of the Western Cape (UWC) have made news more than 13 000 km away in Oman.

This is because Professor Leslie Petrik, Dr Omoniyi Kolawole Pereao and Dr Chris Ademola Bode-Aluko from the Environmental and Nano Sciences research group at UWC are collaborating with scholars from Sultan Qaboos University.

They are working towards limiting marine biofouling - when microorganisms grow on man-made submerged surfaces.

The teams are also collaborating to improving water purification, among other things.

According to the article in the Oman Daily Observer, most fresh water in Oman is derived from the desalination of seawater. They use reverse osmosis which involves allowing fresh water to pass through a membrane and reject sea salts. Biofouling of the membranes seriously affect the operations at desalination plants. It reduces the efficiency of the filtration process and impacts negatively upon the quality and cost of the water.

To stop biofueling, engineers traditionally employ different techniques which involve the application of toxic substances. These methods are harmful to humans and marine life.

“Thus, there is an urgent need for the development of novel, effective and environmentally friendly antifouling protection,” the article notes.

Nanotechnology is possibly a solution.

“Nanotechnology opens a new way to prevent biofouling. Nanocoatings are less toxic than traditional antifouling coatings and provide protection via chemical and physical surface modifications at nanoscale. Dr Dobretsov, together with Dr Mohammed al Abri (Director of the Centre of Nanotechnology, SQU) and Prof Leslie Petrik (UWC) are investigating antifouling properties of doped transition metal oxides, such as titanium oxide (TiO) and zinc oxide (ZnO). When such nanomaterials are exposed to sunlight, an electron in the atom moves to a higher energy level,” the article continues.