Technology

Building farms and towers at sea to feed and power the world

Macquarie University engineers will develop new technologies for ocean infrastructure as part of the Blue Economy Cooperative Research Centre announced by Karen Andrews, the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology.

The Blue Economy CRC will drive an evolution in marine-based industries, unlocking enormous economic, environmental and technological benefits in aquaculture and renewable energy in Australia’s maritime zone.

“Australia has the third largest maritime zone in the world,” says Professor Darren Bagnall, Macquarie University’s Dean of Engineering. “It is around 10 million square kilometres. That’s larger than Australia’s land mass. Macquarie University engineers are already working to improve the safety and reliability of oil and gas platforms and of Australian Navy ships. We’re excited about the opportunity to build on this expertise to create new kinds of infrastructure that will operate safely and efficiently far out to sea,” he says.

“We can only move seafood and energy production offshore if we can ensure safe operations under extreme ocean environments,” says Dr Rouzbeh Abbassi, an engineer and leader of Macquarie’s contribution to the CRC. “We are providing expertise in assessing and evaluating safety, reliability and economic viability of different offshore structures and in different ocean energy resource development,” he says.

The $329 million research project is a 10-year collaboration between six Australian research agencies, 25 industry and government partners, and a dozen international partners underpinned by a $70 million cash investment from the Federal Government. It’s the largest CRC in the history of the scheme.

Blue Economy CRC Research Director, Australian Maritime College Associate Professor Irene Penesis says the program is unique in bringing together aquaculture, renewable energy and offshore engineering for the first time.

“Industries must be enabled to move from the coast zone into more exposed operating environments before we can secure this major opportunity for the nation,” she says.

Associate Professor Penesis says this means:

  • developing new technologies and infrastructure to allow industries to expand off shore,
  • lowering the cost of operations through increasing renewable energy,
  • making advances in materials and the design of offshore structures to increase longevity and reliability in extreme environments,
  • improving the environmental management of our oceans,
  • developing and advocating for regulatory frameworks that build confidence for industry to invest and ensure the public has confidence that developments operate at the highest environmental standards.

The focus of the first five years of the program will be developing and testing new offshore aquaculture and renewable energy technologies, which will then be brought together on a single platform to demonstrate the economic and environmental benefits of co-location.

“The offshore research platform will act as a living laboratory where we can vertically integrate renewable energy and aquaculture technologies with other engineering activities, such as autonomous and remotely-operated vehicles, in a proof of concept for how we could operate in the future,” Associate Professor Penesis says.

“It will be the first offshore research platform of its kind in the world and we’re confident that it will deliver ground-breaking research alongside commercially viable new materials, concepts, prototypes and monitoring systems – all informed by best practice and delivered in an environmentally sustainable way.”

The CRC is expected to generate more than $4 billion for the national economy.

Macquarie University is contributing four chief investigators to the CRC:

  • Dr Rouzbeh Abbassi
  • Dr Fatemeh Salehi
  • Dr Ming Li
  • Professor Darren Bagnall.

Source: Macquarie University

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