©Michael Zapf

Offshore Dialogue: How to live in harmony with the elements

At the international offshore conference during SMM DIGITAL, researchers, engineers and shipbuilding experts joined online to discuss current trends in the offshore wind farms segment, technical challenges facing tidal and wave energy conversion, and innovative ocean monitoring technologies. The principal focus was on the question how natural resources can be utilised in a non-destructive manner.

“The deep sea still harbours many secrets. Many ocean regions have yet to be explored,” said Claus Ulrich Selbach, Business Unit Director – Maritime and Technology Fairs & Exhibitions at Hamburg Messe und Congress, at the opening of the international conference Offshore Dialogue (OD) during SMM DIGITAL. “Scientists work tirelessly to find answers to the open questions. I am sure we will gain fascinating insights again today,” said Selbach.

Beyond the shores
Finding sustainable ways of using ocean resources continues to be a key issue. “The European Commission’s Green Deal is a major watershed in this respect,” said Arvea Marieni, strategy and innovation specialist at the Italian consultancy Brainscapital Srl Società Benefit. “The EU wants to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. From the perspective of the industry, that amounts to a revolution. We need more eco-friendly technologies.” Wind energy is expected to enable the decarbonisation of the energy sector. The EU plans to increase the European offshore wind farm capacity from currently 12 gigawatts (GW) to 60 GW by 2030, and to as much as 300 GW by 2050. Numerous new offshore wind farms will have to be built to achieve this goal.

Disassembling decommissioned old assets is another challenge, especially in the case of oil and gas platforms. Jos Haarman from the Swiss offshore services company Allseas described how this can be done in an eco-friendly way. At the Offshore Dialogue he presented his company's specialised fleet, which includes the world's biggest utility vessel, "Pioneering Spirit". The vessel's hydraulic lifting beams can support weights of up to 48,000 tonnes. The ship can install or remove offshore platform topsides in one piece using its Dynamic Positioning system. "There are still many platforms from the 70s, 80s and early 90s that need to be dismantled. We handle about 10 to 20 per cent of this task. So there is still a sizeable market, some of it for even bigger ships than Pioneering Spirit,” said Haarman.
The CEO of GSR Services, Henning Gramann, explained the regulations that must be complied with when recycling offshore structures. He called upon the industry to think of the future when developing new platforms, saying: "In the automobile industry, thinking about recycling is part of the design process. The offshore industry has not really been doing that. Platforms need to be designed in a more recycling-friendly way."

Finding a sustainable solution for performing offshore maintenance was the purpose of a project of Dr Frank Adam and his team at the consultancy GICON: They now offer a multipurpose platform that includes an autonomous energy supply system. "When designing these hubs we made sure to strike a good balance between the work environment and private spaces,” Adam reported. Up to 32 people can be accommodated on these platforms which provide a surface area of 1,800 square metres. This significantly reduces transfer trips by ship and helicopter between the coast and the offshore wind turbines while increasing flexibility and minimising the impact on nature.

Flowing with the waves
Tidal power is relatively independent from the unpredictability of wind. The advantages of this form of power generation were explained by Ralf Starzmann from Schottel Hydro. "This will be an important, low-cost, predictable and clean energy source. Renewable energy is the key to cutting back our greenhouse gas emissions and improving our CO2 footprint. Tidal energy is reliable and predictable because we know exactly when high and low tides occur," said Starzmann. The engineer presented his "Pempa’q In-stream Tidal Energy Project" which is located near the coast of Nova Scotia. The chosen site features the world's greatest tidal range, providing optimum conditions for the tidal power station 'Force'.

In the depths of the ocean
"To ensure optimum protection of our oceans, we have to understand them first," said DrWalter Kühnlein, Chairman of the Executive Board of the German Association for Marine Technology (GMT). GMT was again the cooperation partner of the OD. A significant amount of relevant data was delivered recently by sailor Boris Herrmann. In the world's toughest single-handed round-the-world yacht race, the Vendée Globe, the Hamburg-based skipper finished fifth. But this was also a race for science. On board his yacht “Seaexplorer" was an ocean research lab from the Kiel-based company SubCTech. "Boris carried our 'OceanPack RACE' on board. This enabled him to collect important data about CO2 content, temperatures and salinity during the race," explained SubCtech CEO Stefan Marx during the Offshore Dialogue. "It is the first set of data that has rounded the world," he added. Prices for these mini labs start at 30,000 euros. Their value for science is immeasurable, however.

Oceanic research of a different kind is what Professor Uwe Freiherr von Lukas from the Ocean Technology Campus in Rostock, Germany engages in. "Our 'Digital Ocean Lab' provides ideal testing conditions for new technologies such as diving robots, subsea drones, control systems or image recognition systems. The results are used to continue developing and optimise them," said von Lukas. This includes equipment that could be used to search for ocean waste.

Ocean pollution was a subject where panellist Ethan Edson was able to contribute key insights. His start-up Ocean Diagnostics endeavours to locate microplastics in the world's oceans. For this purpose the company collects and analyses filtered water samples to understand the whereabouts of these tiny plastic waste particles. In his experience, “plenty of data exists but isn't made public or isn't standardised. We have to find a common 'data language' that everybody can use." This demand did not go unheard at the Offshore Dialogue: "This is not a single-state solution; we all have to collaborate. An unbureaucratic exchange of data would be essential to achieving that," EU expert Marieni agreed. The fight against climate change and ocean pollution is also a race against time.

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Alexandra Neises
Project Manager
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