How can the Natural Environment Research Council help you tackle sustainable maritime challenges?
The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) is the UK's leading public funder of environmental science. We invest public money in world-leading science, designed to help us sustain and benefit from our natural resources, predict and respond to natural hazards and understand environmental change. NERC wants to develop stronger relationships with both academics and businesses to make sure research and innovation can support the challenges you are facing.
NERC has a proud history of supporting researchers in identifying the issues that coastal and maritime communities in the UK face in a changing planet. For over 50 years NERC scientists have increased understanding of the environmental challenges facing these communities and are continually developing solutions to address them.
NERC supports a wide range of research and innovation relevant to the maritime sector, in areas ranging from autonomous technologies to supporting the transition to Net Zero. In the article below we outline examples of how NERC-funded research has delivered benefits to the sector, and how you can engage with NERC’s Futures team to understand how environmental science can help you.
Developing autonomous underwater technology
Compact, low-cost marine vehicles which can gather data autonomously are proving a game-changer in clean-up, maintenance and many other sea-based operations. Central to their emergence has been the close, productive partnership forged between the NERC-supported National Oceanography Centre (NOC) and industry. NOC’s role in this partnership is spearheaded by the Marine Robotics Innovation Centre (MRIC), which provides emerging firms with space, facilities and opportunities to harness NOC expertise, and the Marine Autonomous Robotic Systems (MARS) team, specialists in developing, operating and maintaining marine-science vehicles.
"We find within this openly proactive business cohort every opportunity to rub shoulders with associated marine industry innovators, developers, and operators, including current and future business partners.” Thales UK
The tide of success stories coming out of MRIC includes AutoNaut Ltd. AutoNaut Ltd. joined as a small company but expanded quickly and attributes £1.5 million of its growth, directly or indirectly, to its engagement with NOC. After developing a prototype vehicle supported by a NERC-supported Small Business Research Initiative competition, the company produced a bigger version for international markets which has already seen use in BP projects and the Big Ocean Clean Up. According to the firm, without early, continued support from MRIC, it’s unlikely that AutoNaut Ltd would have gone on to become the commercially viable company it now is. NERC continues to actively invest in this space: exemplified by the recent investment in an unmanned surface vehicle for shallow and coastal areas which will assist in predictions of global sea level rise, funded in 2020 through NERC’s capital investment funding call.
Conscious that capital investment is best complemented with capability building, NERC also continues to fund the Next Generation Unmanned Systems Science (NEXUSS) Centre for Doctoral Training. This initiative aims to develop the next generation of future science leaders in this area, as well as promoting knowledge exchange through placements at international research organisations and industrial and policy partners.
Sensing change in the marine environment
Digital technologies and associated data methodologies are fundamental to shaping the future of the maritime space; improving capability in areas from environmental monitoring to decision making. Accordingly, NERC funds a number of digital projects in this area, including a strong portfolio of active projects which consider the role of next generation sensors. For example, to combat the impacts of sea level rise on coastal and port defences, Coastal REsistance: Alerts and Monitoring Technologies (CreamT) seeks to develop sensors monitoring wave overtopping on seawalls and collect data on waves entering public access areas. Meanwhile, underwater sensors have been used in multiple ways; for example, Underwater large-area high resolution monitoring by Distributed Optical Fibre Acoustic Sensors is using Optical Fibre Acoustic Sensors to detect, locate and quantify acoustic noise sources such as that of gas escaping through the seabed (particularly of relevance to sub-seabed carbon capture and storage).
Understanding Net Zero Oceanographic Capability
The drive to Net Zero is a priority for many organisations in the maritime sector, as exemplified by recent announcements from major companies such as Maersk. UKRI shares this goal with the objective of becoming a carbon neutral organisation by 2040. In line with this ambition, NERC is seeking to identify the options for maintaining and enhancing its ocean science capability with a reduced carbon footprint. To underpin this ambition, NERC recently supported a forward-looking scoping study to move towards a net-zero oceanographic capability. In addition to informing the drivers, trends and needs of future oceanographic research, the project sought to understand the commercial technology landscape and identify the opportunities for NERC, as a vessel owner and operator.
The project recently delivered its final report, presenting key findings on a number of topics including energy efficiency measures, green fuels and autonomous systems. The report highlighted areas where emissions can be reduced by driving energy efficiency, with “route optimisation, hull form optimisation, wind assistance technologies, advanced hull coatings…, use of green shore electrical supplies and even sustainable food policies” potentially reducing NERC vessels’ CO2e footprint by up to 25%.
The report echoed many of the challenges and opportunities described in this newsletter; including how to make best use of the parallelisation enabled by ‘swarms’ of autonomous vehicles, how to support next-generation training for digitally-enabled, net-zero infrastructure, how to integrate of new sensor technologies into wider data platforms and how to redesign vessels to accommodate the increased fuel volumes associated with ammonia or hydrogen fuels. NERC is considering these and other findings to deliver a net zero oceanographic capability.
Whether you are looking to deploy the latest marine autonomous systems, understand how data can inform your decision-making, or reduce your organisation’s emissions, NERC is keen to engage with Maritime UK members. Please email and we can explore how environmental science can inform, support and grow your business, and help you overcome the sustainability challenges of the future.
You can also visit our website (https://nerc.ukri.org/) for more information on funding opportunities, events and success stories.
This year, we are very pleased to welcome Sir Ben Ainslie CBE as our after dinner speaker.
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Marine Autonomy Challenge (MAChallenge)
This exciting challenge is open to teams of students studying at UK universities. The first phase involves a video submission and the finals take place in November this year. Each qualifying team will be provided with an industry simulator to enable them to build the autonomous behaviours required to achieve a series of challenges.Enter Now