"Water technology testing facilities" - Ballast water, Land based test facility

"Water technology testing facilities" - Ballast water, Land based test facility

A new land-based test facility for freshwater ballast water treatment systems

The IMARES test facility is operational since September 2013. The main focus of the new land-based test facility is freshwater testing, as this is often not done at other facilities. The unique location also gives the opportunity to test with brackish water.

Testing and evaluating with guidelines

The new facility means that IMARES will be able to offer manufacturers of BWM systems a complete research package for the testing and evaluation of their systems. The evaluation will be performed in connection with the certification process carried out in line with the guidelines issued by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and with the United States Coast Guard’s Environmental Technology Verification (ETV) guidelines. IMARES can also carry out lab tests and pilot trials for prototypes of ballast water management systems.

Specifications ballast water testing facility

The new testing facility consists of one feed tank with a volume of 730 cubic metres in which a special combination of organisms, sediment and water properties (freshwater and brackish, UV transmission) can be achieved in a controlled environment. Also, there are two testing tanks, each of which has a volume of 260 cubic metres.

This will allow ballast water management systems to be tested, not only for certification purposes, but also to determine the limits of their effectiveness. This means that IMARES goes beyond the requirements of current regulations.

The tanks are located outdoors, which means that testing can be carried out year-round. This also allows the most extreme temperatures at which the systems are still effective to be determined. This information is of vital importance because the shipping industry continues in all seasons, and because these days, the melting ice caps mean that vessels are increasingly following routes that take them close to the North Pole.

Winning the war against undesirable organisms

Cargo vessels move billions of tons of ballast water around the world every year, allowing organisms such as plankton, mussels, crabs and jellyfish to travel as stowaways. When released at the port of arrival, exotic plants and animals can cause severe damage to both the local ecosystem and the economy, with coastal areas being especially vulnerable. Applied research by IMARES provides a major contribution to tackling this problem.

Invasive species

Species travelling on ships has been with us for centuries. While originally related primarily to organisms attached to the hulls of vessels, ballast water later created a new vector for their dissemination. The intensification of shipping means that this issue is becoming ever-more problematic. There are numerous examples of non-native species causing enormous damage to coastal areas. Since 1991, for instance, South America has been struggling with the Asian golden mussel, which has changed the biodiversity and crippled fishing in parts of the continent. In the Caspian Sea, fishermen contend with similar problems due to an invasion by an Asian jellyfish species that eats both the food of fish and their spawn. This jellyfish has recently also been spotted in Dutch waters.

Ballast Water Management Convention

To prevent unwelcome visitors, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO: www.imo.org) set up the Ballast Water Management Convention in 2004. Already been signed by many countries, the core of the convention is that all ships must eventually install a treatment system that would prevent various organisms from being transported in ballast water. These are mostly so-called two-stage methods, such as systems that first filter out most of the organisms in ballast water mechanically, then kill the remainder with UV light or chemicals. In the latter case, there must be guarantees that the ballast water will be safe for the ecosystem after discharge. Unstable chemicals must therefore be used, or the active ingredients neutralised before discharge.


IMARES is studying the effectiveness of ballast water treatment plants. Comprehensive ecotoxicological knowledge is deployed to map the potential negative effects of the treatment system on the environment. This involves the use of various toxicity tests the so-called WET tests, on algae, crustaceans and fish. Research can also be conducted in more natural conditions at IMARES. This takes place in ’mesocosms’ – experimental ecosystems in ponds with a capacity of 4-5 m3. These ponds can also be used at an early stage of the development of a treatment system, for instance by serving as a pilot-scale ballast water tank and thereby allowing multiple treatment processes to be quickly and easily carried out in parallel.

The worldwide research into the effectiveness of treatment systems focuses on their effects in saltwater. Many major ports, however, are partially or completely freshwater, including Rotterdam, Hamburg, Antwerp and the cities in the Great Lakes region of the US. To test the effects of ballast water in such areas, IMARES has a freshwater test facility in Den Helder.

Fresh water test facility

The IMARES land-based test facility will have the main focus on freshwater testing as this is often not done at other facilities. The unique location also gives the opportunity to test with brackish water. The facility will consist of one test tank and one control tank with a capacity of 250 m3 and one feed tank with a capacity of 500 m3. In the feed tank, the special mix of organisms, mud and water characteristics can be prepared in a controlled manner. This gives a vendor the opportunity to test the limits of their ballast water treatment system.


The team of experts on ecology, biology and ecotoxicology make sure that all requirements as defined by IMO in the guidelines G8 and G9 are met. The team has close contact with laboratories for required chemical and bacteriological analyses.

Our Services

  • Application dossiers (Basic and Final approval)
  • Ecotoxicity testing (G9)
  • Land-based testing (G8)
  • Technology development
  • Pilot scale testing
  • Culturing organisms, necessary for studies reaching inlet criteria
  • Advanced ecosystem testing using mesocosms


Since 2006 a team of experts from IMARES are involved in the environmental risk assessment for ballast water treatment systems (BWTS) that use active ingredients under IMO guideline G9. Multiple BWTS have been tested since with different bioassays.

From 2009 onwards research on BWTS was expanded with efficacy testing according to IMO guideline G8 on pilot-scale in the laboratory and full-scale at a vendors land-based test facility.

As partner in the Interreg IVB North Sea Ballast Water Opportunity project (www.northseaballast.eu) IMARES is developing ecological risk assessment using multi-species outdoor mesocosm systems.

Contact: info@northseaballast.eu

Products and Services Information

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52° 7' 57.4788" N, 5° 17' 28.5576" E

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