The success of the marine renewable energy (MRE) industry is dependent upon maximising energy capture and minimising down-time. Device performance is negatively impacted by the growth of fouling organisms, leading to reduced efficiency and reliability; anti-fouling strategies are costly and time consuming. Biofouling also reduces accuracy of data buoys and sensors used to assess the hydrodynamic resource and device performance. While biofouling has been a recognised problem for centuries, deployment of MRE devices creates several issues unique to this sector. “Biofouling of Renewable Energy Environments – Marine” (BioFREE) is a NERC-funded multidisciplinary project that partners Heriot-Watt University with the European Marine Energy Centre. This project is addressing these issues by detailed characterisation of the biofouling communities from multiple habitats used by the MRE sector, and monitoring benthic impacts following deployment and decommissioning. BioFREE has designed a system using framemounted settlement panels to facilitate data collection. Frames are populated with materials of greatest concern to MRE developers, and allow testing of antifouling coatings. Frames are being deployed at several international test centres. Ongoing studies indicate strong species specific seasonal settlement patterns. Fouling communities varied between deployment habitats depending on factors such as hydrodynamic conditions, water depth, and substrate type.
These findings will allow recommendations for test centres and developers to minimise the impacts of fouling, chiefly through selective scheduling of deployments and maintenance, in different habitats, to times when the settlement of fouling organisms will be minimal or their removal will be least costly. In addition, BioFREE has created training materials to help inform the MRE industry of ways to better capture biofouling information when conducting operations at sea. Practical suggestions are informed by recent decommissioning operations conducted on MRE infrastructure. These studies have identified structural areas and materials of particular concern from the impacts of biofouling.