Practical Maritime Research - the living
Due to the major impact of corrosion on the maritime sector, Antwerp Maritime Academy (AMA) started a research group that deals with the theme of corrosion and fouling. To guarantee the relevance of the research for the sector, research is always carried out in close collaboration with the maritime sector - shipping companies, dredging companies, the ports of Antwerp-Bruges and Ostend and paint manufacturers. An academic network supports methodological and technical aspects. AMA now also uses its resources and network for CorrosionLABS.
Corrosion Lab Antwerp Maritime Academy
Corrosion is a very situation-sensitive process. A small deviation in temperature, salinity, presence of organisms, pH value, oxygen content and even depth can make a big difference. All the more reasons for the shipping industry to choose extensive practical testing in its own waters. The Corrosion Lab Antwerp Maritime Academy makes this possible.
AMA has been researching corrosion for 15 years. Gradually it became increasingly clear how great the influence of various environmental factors is. “Testing in a lab with local seawater is not sufficient,” begins project leader Geert Potters. “You cannot rely on averages when it comes to corrosion. To really monitor corrosion properly and test coatings reliably, you have to take all environmental factors into account.”
Pontoons in Ostend and Vlissingen
The Port of Ostend houses a static and a dynamic platform in its docks. Sensors have been attached to all of them to measure several environmental factors as well as corrosion rates. “These sensors are now not only hanging on our static pontoon in the port of Ostend, but also on two mobile pontoons. In addition, we can also conduct friction tests on a fourth floating pontoon in the port of Ostend, thanks to a rotating disc. We use this to simulate sailing ships.”
There are also two pontoons in Vlissingen, equipped with sensors as well. “We know that depth also plays a role in the development of corrosion. After all, at a deeper level there are different temperatures, organisms and other environmental factors. Because Ostend does not have deep water, we constructed additional pontoons, currently set up in Vlissingen, which can be dismantled in one day and rebuilt at another location. The setups can handle up to 200 kilos of test material.” The great thing about these pontoons is that they can easily be moved to other areas. “This way we can do corrosion and coating tests anywhere on location. Thanks to the sensors, we can then directly link them to the exact environmental factors of that location. Port authorities, ship owners, shipping companies and coating companies therefore have extremely reliable data that they can really use.”
Example: iron-eating bacteria
A good example is the recently started research into iron-eating bacteria in the canal between Ghent and Terneuzen. “We will investigate, among other things, why the bacteria manifest themselves in place A and not in place B. When are they active and when not? How quickly does the steel corrode and which existing or new coatings are resistant to it? You cannot do such research in a lab, you really need realistic conditions for that.”
With these pilot plants, AMA can carry out tests for numerous companies. “For example, when you, as a coating company, want to test or validate whether your coating is optimally resistant to the adhesion of bio-organisms. With our tests you can then demonstrate that you have the solution for problems such as friction and corrosion. Or when, as a shipping or port company, you are looking for solutions for the high costs that corrosion annually entails. We, as an independent party, conduct realistic and objective tests, based on actual data, thereby offering important insights and solutions.”
In collaboration with companies, new equipment or can be added to the pontoons. This helps us to tailor the different pontoons and platforms to the needs of the companies and of the maritime sector in general.
Most experiments use realistic conditions. For example, in a standard test, steel coupons are hung in a grid in seawater for weeks or months, for example in a harbour, at different depths or after different treatments. For testing coatings, the approach consists of two parts: coated disc segments are suspended statically for a period of time and attached to a rotating disc for a period of time. The various forms of fouling and physical damage to the coating are continuously monitored.
In addition, portable equipment for coating analysis is also available and experiments can be monitored in the laboratory. An aquarium with controlled conditions has a potentiostat for electrochemical analyses, a viscometer for liquid analyses and a salt mist cabinet for accelerated aging of coating layers. The conditions here can therefore be controlled much more accurately.
Various pilot setups have been set up where metal plates (coated with a layer of paint or not) can be exposed to different marine environments:
Platforms in the port of Ostend and Vlissingen: For corrosion tests under natural conditions, in real seawater, i.e. with relevant chemical (salt, pH, etc.) and biological (bacteria, etc.) conditions. The conditions are continuously monitored via sensors (temperature, acidity, salinity, oxygen, etc.)
A test station in Antwerp: For controlled aerobic corrosion tests.
A test station in Zelzate: To investigate microbial corrosion.
A test station in Ostend: For the analysis of the corrosion of ammunition shells from the First World War where metals are buried in North Sea sediments and are washed by fresh water, brackish water and sea water.
A corrosion container to simulate ships (in preparation): Ships are notoriously difficult to perform research on in practice. To analyse corrosion issues on board, we plan to build a container where pipelines and coatings can be tested on land.
AMA provides education at an academic level and conducts research through doctoral work and international projects. Both are strongly intertwined: in all projects and experiments, students work under the supervision and guidance of academic staff. New insights are then incorporated into the Academy’s courses. There is also a separate training module on the corrosion theme for interested students and people from the professional world.
Throughout academic and industrial project work, the Pilot Sites are developed as a living laboratory, expanding with new sensors, new test systems and extra exposure facilities. At the request of companies, AMA guarantees confidential treatment of the data. This is done by anonymizing the data, treating theses only as an internal document and by making proper agreements with the company in advance.