Mussel Adhesive as a Corrosion-Resistant Coating

Project ID: 7419
Principal Investigator: Bobbi Jo Merten
Research Topic: Repair and Maintenance
Funded Fiscal Years: 2013
Keywords: mussel adhesive, zebra mussel, quagga mussel, corrosion-resistant coatings, underwater application, biomimetics

Research Question

Can mussel adhesive be applied to a steel substrate to develop a coating system with superior corrosion resistance and application flexibility, such as underwater?

Need and Benefit

Formulation of an environmentally-friendly mussel protein based corrosion-resistant coating has direct application to Reclamation's water and power infrastructure. Coatings for immersion or fluctuating immersion/atmospheric condiitons face an especially corrosive environment. The estimated lifetime for presently specified coatings is 15-30 years. This is half the useable lifetime for environmentally harmful coatings such as red lead. The overall goal is to advance corrosion-resistant coatings with a "green" system and to parallel previously achieved useable lifetimes. This has the potential to reduce Reclamation's corrosion and coating maintenance by as much as half.

The mussel protein coating also offers the unique advantage of underwater application, as demonstrated by their natural attachment to immersed objects. Presently, Reclamation does not have a coating which can be used for underwater spot repairs. It is likely that the material could also serve for concrete repair of cracks in dams and canals. This technique would allow the opportunity for repairs to be made without interruption of service.

Though this research is essentially unrelated to foul release coatings, themselves, further work with mussel proteins may give insight to advancing the formulation of foul release coatings. The obvious benefit of mussel protein coatings research is to provide a new application for the unique natural adhesive as well as to mimic biological polymer chemistry for the development of new coating systems.

Contributing Partners

Contact the Principal Investigator for information about partners.

Research Products

Bureau of Reclamation Review

The following documents were reviewed by experts in fields relating to this project's study and findings. The results were determined to be achieved using valid means.

Review of Mussel Adhesion Mechanism and Scoping Study (final, PDF, 956KB)
By Bobbi Jo Merten
Report completed on September 30, 2013

Funding for this project was provided under the Science & Technology Program, project #7419. The original proposal was a small laboratory scoping level experiment to investigate the feasibility of using mussel adhesive to form a protective coating over steel surfaces, which could benefit the corrosion-protective as well as the underwater-cure coatings industries. It was challenging to locate a vendor for supplying mussel proteins, and it was concluded that the materials were cost-prohibitive.

Understanding How Mussels Attach to Surfaces (final, PDF, 502KB)
By Bobbi Jo Merten
Publication completed on September 30, 2014

This bulletin summarizes the research results and potential application to Reclamation's mission.

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Last Updated: 6/22/20