Alumni Stories – Electroclear

Fouling- the build-up of biological growth on submerged surfaces –  is a headache for both boat owners and regulatory authorities. Anti-fouling products available today have a limited lifetime, negative impact on the wider marine ecosystem and/or are not sufficiently effective.

To address this issue, Bioengineering PhD candidates Christopher Walker and, Patrin Illenberger and Iain Anderson, Associate Professor, Department of Engineering Science, founded Electroclear. It is a start-up that is developing a non-toxic solution for the prevention of biofouling using ‘intelligent electronics’ to hinder the growth of fouling species in marine environments.

 “We became aware that biofouling was a big problem when we heard about the invasive fan worms in the Auckland harbour,” says Christopher Walker.

Their solution involves using electrodes and creating an electric field underwater specifically designed to target and disrupt certain marine organisms. 

The start-up has been experimenting at Port Opua (Bay of Islands), Outboard Boating Club (Orakei), and Westhaven Marinas: looking at ways to create electric fields on different surfaces – boat hulls, rope, pontoons – and then connect these to small, land-based power boxes.

 “As an island nation with such strong ties to our ocean, we have a real chance here to lead the world in anti-fouling and biosecurity,” says Walker.

Electroclear entered into the Velocity 100k Challenge in 2018, qualified and won the $15,000 runner-up prize. 

One of Electroclear’s goals is to develop a database of the parameters that impact different organisms in various environmental conditions. This means that when a customer comes with a fouling problem caused by particular algae or larvae in a particular area of the country, they will know the exact electrical field needed to control it.