Designing new marine coatings based on understanding the interplay between biofouling and corrosion: electrochemistry as a complementary tool for fundamental understandings of irreversible damage to engineered surfaces

Principal Investigator

Dr. Heather Buckley, University of Victoria, Departments of Civil Engineering and Chemistry

Website: Greener Approaches to Safe Drinking Water

Collaborator: Graphite Innovation and Technologies Inc.

Project description

High-performance, safer alternative coatings can increase longevity, energy efficiency when moving through water, and duty cycle of marine vessels and other deployed engineered systems. Two major processes that impact performance and longevity of marine materials are biofouling and corrosion. While superficially these manifest quite differently, there is a strong interplay between the prevalence of these two phenomena. Pitting from corrosion increases surface area and creates “pockets” where microorganisms can attach and grow biofilms, which then facilitate colonization by diverse species ranging from algae to barnacles. In tandem, the unique chemical environment found at the interface of a biofilm’s extracellular polymeric substance (EPS) and the host surface is very different from what the bare material experiences in a marine environment, and so the corrosion observed may be very different than for an unfouled surface in sterile seawater. Standard assays for these two tend to treat them separately; co-mitigation of biofouling and corrosion through better paints and coatings is an integrated design opportunity that GIT is uniquely situated to capitalize on, given a more robust set of analysis tools.

This project seeks to design new foul-release smart marine coatings that are safe for deployment in marine environments. To achieve this, the interplay between corrosion and biofouling will be explored for a range of marine materials, particularly coated and uncoated steel alloys in widespread use for boat hulls, and new materials and graphene-based coatings developed by GIT to develop design heuristics for new materials.

The project goal is to apply advanced electrochemical techniques and supplemental microscopy to move GIT beyond asking “what happens?” to asking “why does it happen?”.

Project location

University of Victoria, BC and GIT, Dartmouth, NS


This project seeks a PhD candidate from anywhere in the world to lead a challenging collaborative interdisciplinary initiative that will fundamentally change how we approach design of antifouling marine materials.

Core Criteria

  • Research experience at undergraduate level, such as a summer internship, co-op term, honours thesis
  • Strong written and oral communication skills Demonstrated interest in interdisciplinary work and desire to acquire diverse technical skills
  • Demonstrated interest in applying a green chemistry/engineering and sustainability lens to technical challenges Demonstrated capacity for creative problem solving and balancing scientific rigour with engineering practicality
  • Demonstrated willingness to engage with safety training and follow safety protocols in different work environments
  • Demonstrated commitment to fostering a safe, equitable, diverse, and inclusive research environment
  • Openness to extended travel across Canada on a schedule to be co-created with the team

Asset Criteria

  • Research experience at MSc/MASc level with research productivity demonstrated by publication, patent, or other output as relevant to the nature of the work
  • Experience with either electrochemistry or biofouling laboratory techniques (per position)
  • Experience applying materials-related ASTM techniques
  • Experience and knowledge in marine coatings
  • Experience and knowledge in antifouling and anticorrosive coatings for the shipping industry

How to apply

Email your curriculum vitae and a cover letter outlining how your background demonstrates excellence and fits with the position, interest and any other relevant details to by DATE. Applications received after this date may still be considered.

The successful candidate must meet the admission requirements and apply to the project’s home department and university.

About Graphite Innovation and Technologies Inc.

As Canada’s leading graphene protective coatings company, GIT is focused on using graphene to deliver solutions for a wide range of applications, including marine transportation. GIT’s smart coatings technologies aim to tackle and solve complex issues by being part of the solution, with the end goal of solving the environmental crisis and saving money for the shipping industry.

The project consists of a comparative assessment between the new environmentally  friendly coatings that will be developed by GIT and a benchmark marine coating – such  as anti-fouling biocide-based, copolymer auto polishing, or foul release marine coatings.  Graphene-based coatings have demonstrated potential to be a suitable eco-friendly  alternative to protect ship hulls against corrosion and biofouling. The significance of this  project is to demonstrate the ability of graphene-based coatings versus traditional marine coatings to reduce marine industry emissions while minimizing harm to marine  life.  

The development will include the synthesis of green chemistry formulations that will  have surface characteristics that are repulsive to ocean micro-organisms and develop  an “easy to clean effect,” other than being ultra-low drag surfaces so the ships will  consume less fuel. Factors such as biofouling growth, adhesion of fouling organisms,  types of fouling in each environmental, operational, and environmental impacts, coating  adhesion performance, effect of surface characteristics on shipping fuel efficiency,  effect of VOC/GHG emissions on a global scale.

The project will consider marine  coatings in its five stages, as follows: production of coating, application of coating,  operation of the ship with coating, maintenance of the ship (hull cleaning and recoating  if necessary), end of life and disposal.

This joint research program runs in the Halifax-Dartmouth technological park for 3 years. It encompasses three sub-projects: 

  1. Life cycle assessment of Smart Marine Coatings (Engineering) – POSITION FILLED
  2. Study of the fundamental elements of biofouling growth on engineered surfaces (Biology or Chemistry) – 1 POSITION AVAILABLE
    • Designing new marine coatings based on understanding the interplay between biofouling and corrosion: electrochemistry as a complementary tool for fundamental understandings of irreversible damage to engineering surfaces
  3. Development and characterization of durable foul release smart marine coatings (Materials Science) –  2 POSITIONS AVAILABLE