Ireland at the crest of a new wave in maritime technology
With the opening of the Beaufort Research Centre, the State could become a world leader in this untapped sector
Making an impact: the Beaufort Research Centre, to be based in Ringaskiddy, Co Cork, will help make Ireland a world player in the development of wind and wave power. Above: Eagle Island lighthouse in Co Mayo. Photograph: Gareth McCormack
A model of the Beaufort Research Centre
Ireland has the potential to become a leader in maritime research and engineering with the announcement of the Beaufort Research Centre. To be based in Ringaskiddy, Co Cork, it will help make us a world player in the development of wind and wave power.
The Taoiseach was on hand late last week to turn the sod on a €15.2 million development that will produce a new home for maritime research already under way at University College Cork. It will create a critical mass of researchers able to bid for the biggest projects in areas such as marine renewable energy and general marine development, says the centre’s director Prof Tony Lewis. “The idea is to develop activity in the maritime space – economic activity, generating jobs and capitalising on research,” he says.
Ireland has long been a consumer of technology but now has real potential to take control of a sector and become an innovator, developing the technologies needed to harness wind, wave and tidal renewable energy resources.
The campus at Ringaskiddy will see the development of a 4,700sq m building that will provide a home for three existing University College Cork research groups, says Prof Lewis. These include his own Hydraulics and Maritime Research Centre which conducts research into renewable energy, oil and gas development, coastal engineering and port development.
This group will be joined by the Coastal and Marine Research Centre which deals with planning, mapping, coastal management and ecology. The third participant is the Sustainable Energy Research Group which deals with the integration of renewables into the national grid and exploiting what these new energy systems can give us.
These “cornerstone” research groups will be joined by the National Ocean Test Facility, to be housed in the new Beaufort building. This will provide access to a 35m x 12m x 3m-deep tank capable of producing waves that approximate what conditions will be like at sea for offshore facilities.
The Beaufort building will also house Marei, the €25 million Marine Renewable Energy Ireland research centre funded by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI). It is one of seven new SFI centres where academic researchers will join forces with industrial participants, who are expected to cover up to 30 per cent of the research costs, Prof Lewis says. Marei already has 50 industrial partners so there is great potential for discoveries of direct relevance to the maritime sector.
The academic and industrial partners will be sailing into uncharted waters when it comes to renewables from the sea. Because the sector is so new, many of the engineering challenges have yet to be answered by international research teams working to stake a claim in the sector.
One research project already under way is looking to find ways to push wind turbines further out to sea where their noise and visual nuisance aspects will not be a factor. The challenge is in erecting them and keeping them in place despite the storms thrown up by the Atlantic.
As a solution, the researchers are designing floating platforms to keep the turbines in place. The platforms would also have wave power turbines built into them to get the most out of the energy available. Prof Lewis explains that scale models can then be built and tested in the massive wave generator tanks which provide a realistic model for what the Atlantic can deliver.