Norwegian startup offers a new approach to cleaner hulls

by | 11th September 2023 | The Naval Architect - News, Technology

Home News Norwegian startup offers a new approach to cleaner hulls

Render of ‘Luke Hullwalker’, Norsjór’s hull cleaning robot

Norsjór’s advanced laser system provides innovative solution to the problem of biofouling

Biofouling is a problem that has long plagued the maritime world but is often overlooked in the wider scope of the industry when it comes to innovation.

Organisms, such as marine species and algae, can have a substantial impact on vessel performance and efficiency. A vessel weighed down by these organisms will see increases in drag force and hydrodynamic volume. This can lead to a significantly higher fuel consumption and as a result increased GHG emissions.

Traditional anti-fouling solutions for shipowners, such as coatings, also create their own problems as they can seep into the water surrounding a vessel. Current methods of removing biofouling, such as jet washes or high-powered brushes, can also be inefficient.

Step forward Norsjór, a Norwegian tech startup founded in 2021, which has developed an advanced subsea laser system for sustainable biofouling removal. Norsjór’s solution doesn’t damage the vessel’s anti-fouling coating, or harm the ocean ecosystem, as some traditional hull cleaning methods can do. Named one of the world’s 10 most prominent biofouling innovators by the World Ocean Council and the Ocean Opportunity Lab in 2022, the company is also supported by organisations such as Equinor and Maritime Cleantech.

Norsjór founder and CEO Amalie Eilertsen spoke to The Naval Architect this summer about the company and its plans for the future. Eilertsen first decided to look into biofouling solutions during her master’s degree in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at university. “When I started looking into it, I understood that it is generally neglected by the average person but it has a huge impact, both on our environment and socially,” she says.

Later on she decided to team up with her fellow classmates Kennet Karlsen and Jarle Haugereid. Eilertsen initially worked as a nurse for several years until her master’s degree. Her and the rest of the team worked full-time on the initial development of their project while working part-time to help with living costs.

After extensive research they decided that there was a gap in the market which they could exploit. For the Norsjór team the crucial research that spurred their decision came when they had explored all the available biofouling technology. “One day I stumbled on a new huge piece of research where they mentioned laser technology as a good solution,” says Eilertsen.

“My first thought was that it was interesting because I’ve worked in the healthcare industry and we used lasers or radiation to kill organic material. This gave me an idea this might work,” she adds.

Eilertsen and her team started doing tests right away but not all of them were successful. One failed test took place in Sweden during the Christmas period in 2021. “We had not put a lot of money into it, but we didn’t have any money to start with, so it felt like a lot,” she says. “I remember every one of us going into that Christmas holiday exhausted and frustrated that we had nothing.”

The team didn’t let this setback get them down though. “During the Christmas holiday we had some time to think so we started again. Then just a couple of months later we had a positive test on the correct wavelength and that could handle all the parameters that we looked at, such as damage to the biofouling and a minimum energy loss in water,” Eilertsen says.

Following the positive test, the team received a grant of NOK900,000 (US$86,000) through the STUD-ENT programme from Innovation Norway. They then began rigorous testing. Due to the fact lasers had never been tried as a solution to biofouling there were many unknowns. Eilertsen adds: “You’re sort of just making it up as you go along. It’s like jumping off a cliff with no clue on how to land on your feet.”

Starting a new business and research venture during the midst of the coronavirus pandemic also hindered the team’s progress. “Everyone was really not focused. I think that a lot of people that we talked to were kind of occupied with the new restrictions within their own workplace and weren’t eager to jump into something new,” says Eilertsen. “We of course met a lot of people that have helped us along the way. But I think during the pandemic it was hard to make people lean into something new and something that was very much on paper that had never been done.”

The first upscaled model of Norsjór’s hull cleaning robot, named ‘Luke Hullwalker’, is due to be finished in autumn 2023. Eilertsen says: “We know that every component works and we are now approximately a month away from pilot tests.” The final product will be manufactured at the team’s HQ in Kristiansand, Norway.

Several potential buyers and investors have already reached out. “They have contacted us,” says Eilertsen. “We’ve gained a lot of interest in posts in the last three months to four months. The reason companies have contacted us is they say that we check all the boxes.”

Part of the interest in Norsjór’s work is the result of the company’s inclusion in the prestigious Equinor & Techstars Energy accelerator, which the team was awarded along with nine other companies.

“It’s more important to be able to deliver a quality product,” says Eilertsen. “A lot of our potential customers all want to know what it will be capable of and if it’s compatible with their own range of projects. We have been asked by the offshore wind sector to use it on wind turbine monopiles to remove biofouling there. Other customers have asked if it will work inside pipes, outside pipes, and in other offshore construction.”

“This is of course really promising for the future, but we need to also focus for now and deliver the first product,” she concludes.

Norsjór aims to scale its product from autumn 2023 and then distribute it to its pilot customers. A full market release is planned for 2024 following final tests.

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