Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia ocean tech companies getting millions for next-level innovation

A startup company behind a hull paint too slick for barnacles and an Irish maker of remotely operated vessels are the latest to receive innovation money from the Ocean Supercluster, a joint federal and industry funding agency.

Money is going toward piloting unmanned vessels and developing a surface so smooth barnacles can't get a grip

Sarah MacDonald is the chief operating officer of Xocean, a company that is developing the next generation of unmanned surface vessels that gather ocean data. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

A Dartmouth, N.S., startup behind a hull paint that repels barnacles and an ocean data company with an ambitious expansion plan in Nova Scotia are the latest to receive funding from Canada's Ocean Supercluster.

The joint program between industry and the federal government was created to promote innovation in ocean technology. 

Xocean of Ireland, one of two companies announced as funding recipients Thursday, makes unmanned surface vessels that gather ocean data and are piloted from shore using satellite communication.

The vessels, also known as USVs, can scan the ocean floor to check if offshore wind farms or oil rigs have been damaged by storms, said chief operating officer Sarah MacDonald.

"We are developing the next generation of USVs enabling us to serve faster, deeper and further offshore with negligible carbon emissions," MacDonald said at the announcement at the Centre for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship in Dartmouth.

The Nova Scotia expansion

MacDonald said a Nova Scotia expansion will create dozens of jobs over the next four years and provide work at Lunenburg fabrication company ABCO Industries.

"Xocean is targeting the fabrication of a fleet of 100 USVs and the opening of a control centre in Nova Scotia to support our global operations with our partners," said the former Emera executive.

The $3.4-million project — with $2 million from the Ocean Supercluster and $1.4 million from industry — will develop a seven-metre USV capable of towing underwater sensors with a range of over 3,000 nautical miles.

Partners are ABCO Industries, DMR Boat Design, Ocean Floor Geophysics, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Too slick to stick

The biggest innovation project unveiled Thursday — $4.6 million — will test an environmentally friendly hull coating that's too slick for barnacles, making ships more fuel efficient and quieter.

It was co-developed by Mo AlGermozi at an engineering lab at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

He said the coating is a smooth surface that does not allow underwater growth.

"What we're selling is a coating — a paint if you want to call it that. It does not leach into the environment and it has all these performance benefits," AlGermozi said after the announcement.

Horizon Maritime offshores vessels will test a new environmentally friendly hull paint that is too slick for barnacles and other underwater growths. (Horizon Maritime)

"It's certainly a smoother ride. We've had a couple of people put it on and they've noticed half a knot difference in speed," he says.

His company, Graphite Innovation Technologies, will test and validate the coating on the bottoms of Horizon Maritime offshore vessels.

The company intends to commercialize a product in 2022.

Coping with COVID-19 headwinds

The Ocean Supercluster is a non-profit overseeing $154 million in federal innovation money committed two years ago. Industry also contributes.

So far, it has approved 42 projects worth $200 million. Of that, $90 million was federal money.

The agency pivoted this year with a new program to help the sector hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

It involved smaller amounts of money, faster approvals and reduced the requirement for matching funding from industry.

CEO Kendra MacDonald said COVID-19 has slowed activity.

"Certainly there were delays in terms of research labs being closed, the number of people that could be on ships and the safety measures for offshore oil and gas. They've had incredible impacts with the pandemic," she said.

The oil industry was a founding member of the Supercluster. MacDonald said the battered sector remains committed to funding projects, but money is slower to arrive.

"They are still providing match, but it is a slower process to get them through. They have a lot of other things happening, as well," she said.

2 other Nova Scotia projects

The Ocean Supercluster announced two other projects Thursday, both led by Pisces Research Project Management.

One is valued at $3.8 million. It will seek ways to share ocean data and make it more widely available.

The other, valued at $420,000, will promote "diversity, equality and inclusion" in the ocean tech sector.


Paul Withers


Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.