The ocean – ’industrial district’ of the future

Up to now, marine aquaculture and power production haven’t attracted much consideration together. But they may be closely related in the future. Professor Erik Damgaard Christensen is currently leading a large-scale EU project entitled the Mermaid Project, which explores how to unite two traditionally separate facilities. The objective is to establish large Multi Use Offshore Platforms that support production facilities ranging from offshore wind farms to aquaculture to algae farming. Placing these facilities together allows them to share offshore platforms or personnel transportation to and from the installations, thus reducing the total costs and burden on the environment. 

 

In many aspects, the idea appears obvious. A large percentage of the financial costs associated with aquaculture and offshore wind farms are related to operations and maintenance. It is therefore clear that different types of facilities can benefit from proximity to one another in terms of transportation of personnel and materials, platform building, systems for analysing weather and current conditions, facility inspection and repairs as well as ships for transporting end products.  

However, the concept faces a number of challenges. Widely varying industries must cooperate with each other, and the aggregate environmental impact plays a huge role. But Professor Erik Damgaard Christensen is convinced that the new Multi Use Offshore Platforms offer the potential to exploit the ocean’s resources and areas in a far more effective way than ever before  – while also focusing on environmental impact. And the more offshore that the installation is located, the greater the value in developing and establishing a shared infrastructure.

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Something’s afloat

One of the issues of the Multi Use Offshore Platforms is deep down in the ocean itself, where Erik Damgaard Christensen carries out research into the hydraulic phenomena that occur nearby the production facilities under various wave and current conditions. For instance, how do waves and currents affect structures and nets, and how do nutrients move in the water under various aquaculture conditions? Understanding of these issues is important both in terms of wear and durability but also in assessing whether fish in an offshore facility can access their feed before it is swept away by the current, and whether the water flow ensures that the fish or mussels receive sufficient oxygen throughout the facility. 

 

Many stakeholders

Hydraulics is just one of many aspects that must be thoroughly explored in order to evaluate the potential success of future Multi Use Offshore Platforms. There are numerous factors to consider in the total picture, including the technical, socio-economical and environmental factors. For this reason, the Mermaid project encompasses 28 different participants ranging from research institutions to fish and energy producers representing 13 different countries: Scotland, The Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Greece, Belgium, Norway, Germany, Cyprus, Turkey, Poland, Sweden and Denmark.

 

Environmental impact

One of the biggest challenges is managing environmental impact. In the European Union it is difficult to obtain permission to establish large-scale marine production facilities. This difficulty makes it even more pressing to develop shared resources in the few places where permission is granted. 

 

For Professor Christensen, environmental concerns are paramount. However, he believes that we must be careful not to become stuck in obsolete notions of what harms the environment. For instance, it has been shown that offshore wind farms provide an excellent environment for fish that prefer stony bottomed habitats. When building large offshore wind farms, stone constructions are used to ensure a stable foundation for the turbines. These stone constructions then serve as artificial reefs for the local fish life, and provide good breeding conditions. Thus Professor Christensen encourages the exploration of potential instead of focusing on the obstacles, many of which may be overcome as a result of the increased knowledge and possibilities of today.  

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Multi Use Platforms still in the future

When the Mermaid project is completed at the end of 2015, it will have formulated a set of specific guidelines intended to assist future stakeholders within the offshore industries in planning, establishing and operating their businesses in the most optimal way possible. Multi Use Offshore Platforms do not yet exist so researchers are basing their studies on existing production facilities to help provide a realistic picture of the challenges that future Multi Use Offshore Platforms must be equipped to handle.

 

Four areas under investigation

Four test areas have been selected for study in the Baltic Sea, the North Sea, the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. The test areas were chosen to represent different marine environments, socioeconomic conditions, data accessibility and for the potential to create direct connections between local research teams, stakeholders, political decision makers, small and medium sized businesses and the industrial network. In this way the researchers also establish good connections with the institutions early on in the project, which will provide natural motivation to continue working with the project results and guidelines when they are complete.

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Facts:

The project is entitled: ”Innovative Multi-purpose offshore platforms: planning, design and operation” – or ”MERMAID” for short. The project is being carried out over 4 years with a total budget of EUR 7.4 million, of which EUR 5.5 million is provided by the European Union Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). The project is comprised of 28 partners from across Europe, including 11 universities, 8 research institutions, 5 industries and 4 small and medium sized businesses. DTU is administering the project with Professor Erik Damgaard Christensen as coordinator.  

http://www.mek.dtu.dk/english/Research/Feature_Articles/The-ocean-industrial-district-of-the-future
26 SEPTEMBER 2018