Underwater robot cleans ships to cut emissions

HullSkater underwater robot cleans ships
HullSkater | Image: Jotun

A ship may look elegant as it cuts serenely through the waves but a look below the waterline reveals a different picture

Countless marine species attach themselves to ship hulls. It’s been estimated that biofouling – as this accumulation of drag-inducing marine life is known – can push a ship’s fuel consumption by 40%, boosting already high CO2 emissions.

Biofouling on a hull and propeller
Biofouling on a hull and propeller

From copper hulls to toxic paint, nothing so far has stopped this expensive problem. So a new robot ship cleaner is being hailed as a breakthrough in the battle against marine fouling.

Jotun, a Norwegian paint maker, has produced HullSkater, an underwater machine that cleans a ship’s hull and prevents the build-up of fouling.

HullSkater robot at work on a ship hull
HullSkater robot at work on a ship hull | Image: Jotun

Holding itself to the ship by powerful magnets, the robot removes marine life before it becomes established. Because it travels with the ship, it can be used every time the vessel is at anchor or in harbour.

Maritime transport emits around 940 million tonnes of CO2 annually, if global shipping were a country, it would be the sixth biggest polluter in the world.

Funnel air pollution from a container ship
Funnel stack pollution | Image: Flickr/Tom Turner/SeaTeam Images

If 25% of ships convert to using the technology, the designers claim their product will reduce CO2 emissions by at least 10 million tons per year by reducing the volume of fuel needed.

At the United Nations Climate Action Summit in 2019 the Getting to Zero Coalition was launched with the goal of decarbonizing the shipping sector by 2030.


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