Technology Spain , León, Friday, April 12 of 2013, 15:07

Microorganisms to prevent corrosion in metal structures

The Instituto de Biotecnología de León, INBIOTEC, takes part in the BIOCORIN European project that aims to develop a biotech product

José Pichel Andrés/ DICYT The Instituto de Biotecnología de León, INBIOTEC, an institute of biotechnology, takes part in an European project that aims to develop a biotech product to prevent corrosion in metal structures of all kinds: from bridges to underground pipes. This proposal called BIOCORIN has nine partners: companies, research centers, etc. from six European countries (Spain, Germany, Greece, Italy, Slovenia and the Netherlands). New Biocoting for Corrosion Inhibition in Metal Surfaces, is led by the Spanish company Acciona Infraestructuras and its main objective is to use protective microorganisms to prevent others to produce deterioration.

In order to maintain metal structures, we are currently using paints containing biocides that pollute during its production and its use and their life is not very profitable. Therefore, the main goal of this work, sponsored under the Seventh Framework Programme of the European Union, is “to opt for more economically and environmentally sustainable alternatives over current technologies”, as INBIOTEC researcher Ricardo Vicente Ullán explains.

Deterioration could be largely caused by bacteria, yeasts and fungi, so the idea is to find other antagonistic microorganisms able to combat them, replacing the chemical compounds currently used. Microorganisms inducing corrosion (MIC) “adhere to the metal surface and secrete compounds that accelerate the corrosion process”, he explains. Normally, they build up a coat and certain invertebrates join their activity, mainly in marine environments, until corrupting any structure with metallic elements.

In this project, INBIOTEC role focuses precisely on the identification of both microorganisms: those damaging infrastructures and those that could be chosen to fight them. Scientifics already have some clues; “We are at a research stage, but there is some literature on the subject”, the researcher states.

The tech center in León has received some corroded metal samples from very different climatic conditions in order to analyze the organisms that have taken part in the corrosion process. The ultimate goal is to study damaged surfaces from Mediterranean, Atlantic, continental and oceanic climates on materials coming from very different places, “from Madrid to Galicia and from Italy to the North Sea”.

Sample Analysis

Taking into account the analysis off all samples, “we will study the existing microbial populations and their impact on the metal surfaces, from the mildest to the most severe effect”, as Ricardo Vicente Ullán explains. Scientists do not rule out any hypothesis: organisms causing metal corrosion in a particular location may not be in any other context o may not have the same impact; besides, antagonistic microorganisms could share the same ecological niche. Therefore, the objective is to isolate both harmful and potentially anti-corrosive organisms and reproduce the latter for the intended purpose. Once this stage is over, this project aims to produce a sol-gel that could be used as a coat on metal surfaces and that could contain protective organisms; these organisms secrete antibacterial and antifungal substances able to fight aggressive agents.

When the new product is available, the project still has not come to an end; it will be necessary to check its effectiveness in different European climates and in civil engineering structures such as viaducts, sewerage, oil pipes, port facilities, airports and railways. This will be a test stage that, if goes as scientists expect, would be the prelude for the product’s commercial exploitation.

The members of the team have more than a year ahead to complete the research cycle: BIOCORIN is scheduled to finish in August 2015. Of the four million Euros the Eco-Innovation project (Seventh Framework Programme) is provided, nearly half a million is granted to INBIOTEC, which portrays the importance of this enterprise that aims to devise a product that, at the beginning, could be more expensive than conventional paints, but that could be a long-term resources saving.

Study Card
| Project| BIOCORIN. New Biocoting for Corrosion Inhibition in Metal Surfaces | Partners | ACCIONA INFRAESTRUCTURAS S.A (Spain, coordinator), TUBAF (Germany), BIOPROSPERITY (Greece), STRESS. (Italy), GRUPPO C.S.A. (Italy), IFB d.o.o. (Slovenia), GIRARDI (Italy), VLCI (Netherlands) and INBIOTEC (Spain)| Budget | Four million Euros. 489,000 granted to INBIOTEC | Funding | Seventh Framework Programme by the European Union| Duration | From March 2012 to August 2015 | More information at | and




A 600,000 Million Euros Saving

INBIOTEC participation in this project is based on a new research strategy by this tech center focused on the industrial innovation. Its mail goal is to further link scientific work to business needs relying on a multidisciplinary team experienced in environmental, industrial production processes and chemical analysis European projects.


In general terms, much of the scientific research increasingly looks for profitable practical uses. In this regard, this research area is of a great interest to various sectors and seems to have an immediate applicability: the project is aimed to locate a very competitive product in the market, working closely with companies.


By researchers reckoning, corrosion leads to a global 1.32 trillion Euros expenditure per year because of repairs, losses and new infrastructure building, 3-4% of Gross Domestic Product in developed countries.


Of all corrosion problems, a 10% could be caused, in a greater or a lesser extent, by organisms, but, in structures such as underground pipelines this percentage rises to 50%.


Furthermore, we have to take into account the poor performance of the products being used to fight damages, especially because they are not environmentally friendly, which has a negative impact on economic issues. In fact, European laws on biocide products are progressively forcing to pull pollutant compounds out in all sectors; but this goes against the fact that, to date, environmentally friendly solutions have poor performance and life, so there is not any sustainable option from the economic point of view.


Combining all these factors, the project is backed by its financial importance, as it could represent a 600,000 million Euros saving in the infrastructure maintenance, with a praiseworthy four million Euros investment in three and a half years regarding the potential results.


Consequently, INBIOTEC joins a major European project linked with business in order to perform a transfer of knowledge significant action, as university linked researchers are expected to.