Honors Gallery

New USGS method of treating ballast water on ships can reduce spread of invasive species 

Award: Excellence in Technology Transfer

Year: 2023

Award Type: National

USGS National Labs


The problem being solved: Tanks of ballast water on a cargo ship provide stability and maneuverability for vessels carrying relatively light loads. Often, after stopping at a port to deliver goods, a ship will take on ballast water that is released at the ship’s next stop when it takes on more cargo. This process is a major contributor to the spread of invasive aquatic species, which compete with native species for resources and disrupt the shipping industry by clogging pipes and waterways. The usual method of disinfecting ballast water involves pumping all of the water out of the tank, treating it and then pumping it back in—an inefficient and expensive procedure.  

The technology solution: An innovative treatment system developed by the U.S. Geological Survey allows ballast water to be disinfected without being removed from the ballast tank. Nozzles positioned strategically within the tank circulate a chemical solution that treats the water, followed by a neutralizing solution that ensures any residual chemicals are environmentally friendly. This process allows ships to treat their tanks on their own schedules while in transit, avoiding the expense and delays associated with pumping ballast water at busy ports.  

The tech transfer mechanisms: USGS and Glosten, a company with experience adopting shore-based technologies for shipboard use, signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) in 2012 focused on making commercially relevant improvements to the USGS nozzle mixing technology. USGS licensed the technology to Glosten in 2015. The license was amended the following year to allow the company to take on partners in the commercialization effort. With USGS approval, in 2021 Glosten, the developer of oneTank mobile, partnered with Scienco/FAST, the developer of inTANK, and ERMA FIRST, the developer and parent company of oneTANK. 

The tech transfer excellence: Faced with pandemic-related challenges that included changing market conditions and the loss of key collaborators, the USGS technology transfer office customized and modified its licensing terms, including an innovative conversion and breach clause that created checks and balances to ensure that all parties worked together. These efforts expanded the technology’s potential reach by including a leading global manufacturer, while still ensuring involvement by a U.S. company to strengthen the national supply chain.  

The outcomes: The technology is now available under oneTank mobile or Ballast Responder, oneTANK and inTANK brands in three markets: (1) emergency response and mobile treatment needs related to ballast water treatment, (2) small ships and workboats and (3) large ocean-going ships. These systems can potentially save the shipping industry millions of dollars by reducing the disruptions caused by invasive species and helping companies meet strict regulatory standards for ballast water that will go into effect in 2024 to control the spread of those organisms. 

Team Members:

Noah Adams, Richard Miller, James Mitchell, Barnaby Watten

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