Wearside Matters: New frontiers for future of offshore wind

Trevor Hardcastle and a prototype float module tested at Port of Sunderland
Trevor Hardcastle and a prototype float module tested at Port of Sunderland

Revolutionary technology set to transform offshore energy generation and supply is being perfected through trials at Port of Sunderland.

The Port, at one time the centre of the shipbuilding world, is once again the base for endeavour that has the potential to make a global impact, thanks to the work of Frontier Technical Ltd.

Trevor Hardcastle, founder and director of Frontier Technical, is pioneering a new, unique and potentially game-changing approach to the construction of offshore platforms.

It is hoped his ‘MARLIN Modular Floating Platform Project’ will provide a more cost-effective, efficient and environmentally friendly approach to developing coastal platforms – floating offshore wind platform prototypes currently being tested in the open sea off the coast of Sunderland.

The company plans to open a facility where float modules will eventually be mass produced. Port of Sunderland’s location is ideal, with the new direct rail link into the port, improved road connections and the new Wear crossing due to be completed next year.

The extensive docks and direct access to the sea will allow swift direct delivery of raw materials to a factory, and easy exporting of finished goods to overseas markets directly from the port by container ships.

Trevor, who has held roles with global marine and energy original equipment manufacturers, said: “There is increasing demand on energy supply and the need for more sustainable, environmentally-friendly sources.

“Our approach to offshore wind has the potential to change the industry, making construction of offshore wind turbines more cost-effective, quicker and sustainable.

“With this technology, constructing a platform for an offshore wind turbine will take a couple of weeks.

“It will remove the need for associated infrastructure, expensive equipment and complex logistics.

“And it has the potential to create a large number of North East jobs, as we would construct the modules locally, and potentially even construct the turbines remotely.”

Crucially, Trevor’s innovative solution does not need a sophisticated port infrastructure close to its destination, meaning this technology can quickly establish the building blocks for offshore wind technology in developing counties.

He explained: “The modular platforms can be deployed anywhere in the world without a construction yard or a heavy lifting crane vessel.

“They are a far more flexible and cost-effective floating solution.

“The modules can be connected sub-sea remotely using digital techniques, which removes the need for infrastructure beside the quay.”

The inter-connectable modules are arranged in a lattice formation and can join to make different structures, enabling them to be used for a range of purposes, such as offshore wind power, and floating desalination plants, harbours and aquaculture.

Frontier Technical is based at Sunderland Software Centre, and has assembled a consortium, which includes Port of Sunderland, as it develops its prototype with a view to eventually taking the product to market by 2020.

The six-strong consortium includes regional specialists: Howell Marine Consulting, based in Morpeth, and PDL Solutions (Europe) Ltd of Hexham; as well as Sunderland City Council, the Port of Sunderland, the University of Sunderland and the University of Strathclyde.

Coun Harry Trueman, Deputy Leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “It’s brilliant that we see a Sunderland-based innovation at the forefront of the offshore industry.

“Frontier Technical’s work is truly ground-breaking, and has the potential to transform the offshore sector.

“We recognised the potential this had immediately, and we are delighted to be working – as part of a consortium – to support Trevor in developing his technology, in readiness to take it to market and, in the process, bring jobs and prosperity to the port and the wider region.”

Frontier Technical and the consortium backing it, received £300,000 in funding from Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency, and further support from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) to support proof of concept development.

Port of Sunderland Director, Matthew Hunt, said: “Trevor’s work not only has the potential to create a new industry at Port of Sunderland, it could create skilled jobs, reduce harmful fossil fuel emissions, and bring energy to parts of the world currently without electricity.

“It will be a proud day when Frontier Technical brings its first floating turbine to market and we can say that Port of Sunderland played a role in changing the face of energy generation and supply.”