Cross-Sector Innovation at the Heart of Offshore Wind

Published 18 March 2020

Like all growing industries, offshore wind stands to benefit significantly from cross-sector innovation and knowledge transfer. If the UK is to maintain its world leader status in offshore wind, as well as meet and exceed its ambitious net-zero goals by 2050, adopting proven technology from other sectors is essential. In fact, cross-pollination of processes and technologies from different sectors is central to the mission-led innovation framework adopted by the UK’s Industrial Strategy.

More often than not, we are siloed into thinking a particular way and soon become trapped into a standardised, uninspiring creative process. As a result, there is little room for innovation, with ideas and creative problem-solving becoming stagnant. It is therefore critical to learn lessons from other sectors faced with similar challenges to equip the industry with the best-practice innovation.

Bringing together innovative thinking from multiple different sectors is often more efficient than developing the technology from the ground-up. Cross-sector collaboration brings together a wider range of experience and ideas that, in turn, increases the likelihood of solving industry challenges more efficiently by avoiding the need to re-invent the wheel.

For offshore wind, there are clear synergies in operations and maintenance procedures with the oil and gas, automotive and aerospace sectors.  However, inspiration and innovation can come from all sorts of industries. Here at the Catapult, we work with companies with innovative ideas and technologies across a wide spectrum in order to accelerate the growth of offshore renewable energy.

From Oil and Gas to Offshore Wind

Historically, Tekmar designs and manufactures seals and protection systems for subsea applications in the oil and gas sector. In 2008, Tekmar diversified with its first-generation TekLink cable protection system for the offshore renewable energy sector – an innovation that was successfully tested and validated at our National Renewable Energy Centre in Blyth. Subsea cables work in punishing conditions far offshore and require rigorous testing to ensure they can remain operational for their entire 25 – 40-year lifespan.  This move has seen Tekmar become the market leader in cable protection systems for the sector. In the years since entering the offshore renewable energy market, Tekmar has seen more than a threefold increase in turnover and the launch of a new company, AgileTek, in 2018.

Chopper-Inspired Technology

Protecting against erosion of the leading edge of an offshore wind turbine blade is a major area of research and innovation for the offshore wind industry. Aerospace component manufacturer Doncasters Bramah has created a metallic alloy leading edge protection system that could provide near lifetime protection for the blade. Inspired by aerospace technology used in helicopter rotor blades, the metal alloy acts as an erosion barrier as well as increasing the blade’s ability to withstand higher blade tip speeds. This, in turn, contributes to a 6% reduction in the capital cost of a wind turbine. A sample of Doncasters Bramah’s metallic alloy underwent testing at our rain erosion test rig in Blyth before being retrofitted at our Levenmouth Demonstration Turbine to replicate the real-world offshore environment.

Driving Forward Offshore Wind with Formula One

Anakata Wind Power Ltd is coming out in pole position with its game-changing technology to improve the aerodynamics of wind turbine blades and increase energy output by up to 10%. Anakata’s Formula 1-inspired blade enhancements can be retrofitted to fit any blade quickly, safely and with ease. Having already successfully installed its technology on turbines in the UK, Europe and the US, Anakata has now set its sights further afield. With the help of the TUS-ORE Catapult Research Centre, Anakata has penetrated the Chinese offshore wind market after successfully installing its blade ‘winglets’ on a turbine at China’s Gansu Changma wind farm.

Sailing into Offshore Wind

Edinburgh-based ACT Blade is seas-ing the opportunities presented by offshore wind by adapting its sail modelling technology into modular blades that are over 50% lighter than those in use today. As a result, the blade can capture more wind that will increase energy production and lower costs. ACT Blade’s disruptive design has the potential to reduce the Levelised Cost of Energy (LCoE) by 8.7% while increasing energy production by 9.7%. Our Research and Disruptive Innovation team worked with engineers from world-leading yachting design specialists SMAR Azure, resulting in the spin-off company focusing on the offshore wind sector. Put simply, a lighter blade can achieve greater power production.

Crime Fighting to Clean, Green Energy

With its origins in public safety, R2S is used to taking detailed pictures of crime scenes that are then stitched together to be referred back to later, meaning if a crime scene is disrupted or detectives had an open-ended case, they virtually ‘step into’ the original crime scene with a few clicks.

In 2018, R2S began exploring the world of offshore wind energy. The 360⁰, information rich walk-throughs enable users to see a highly detailed record of any asset they are looking to inspect – in this case, employees can assess an offshore wind turbine with their feet firmly planted on dry land. ORE Catapult gave R2S access to our 7MW Levenmouth Demonstration Turbine to virtually map the asset, providing them the opportunity to demonstrate its technology in a real-world offshore environment.

Rallying Around the Rail Industry

UK-based Smart Component Technologies (SCT) has its origins in the rail industry, working with major industry partners including Network Rail, High Speed 2 and London Underground. The offshore wind opportunity was soon realised as SCT’s innovative remote condition monitoring technology for bolted assets has the potential to reduce O&M costs by 15% by eliminating the need for bolting inspections and therefore reducing the scheduled downtime of a turbine and lowering the risk to personnel.

SCT joined forces with ORE Catapult, who partnered with them in a further grant application and signposted them towards the Offshore Wind Growth Partnership (OWGP). The OWGP’s support for this project will significantly reduce the time to market for the offshore wind sector from four years to 15 months.