The National Subsea Research Institute (NSRI) is today unveiling the future focus for ground-breaking research in the exploitation of oil and gas using subsea technologies and seeking to create a centre of excellence for research and development in Scotland.
The institute, based in the University of Aberdeen, will concentrate its efforts on improving integrity and performance so that the UK subsea sector, which currently generates almost £6 billion and supports 50,000 jobs, can lead the way around the world in the development of subsea technology.
Funded by industry and academia, NSRI has launched a strategy to fast-track research into finding game-changing scientific solutions to the increasingly complex challenges of extracting hydrocarbons from mature provinces.
The institute is aiming to attract world-leading scientists to Scotland and establish four university research Chairs in innovative inspection, underwater robotics and autonomous learning, underwater communications and intelligent monitoring systems.
Newly appointed chief executive of NSRI, David Pridden, explains: "To secure the world's future energy supply, oil and gas companies are exploring and producing hydrocarbons in increasingly mission-critical situations with highly sophisticated equipment. Until now, the focus for subsea research and technology development has been upon frontier, deepwater areas. NSRI aims to be the first dedicated research facility in the world to address the demands of mature sectors such as the North Sea, which calls for maximising recovery whilst reducing capital and operational expenditure.
"There is no room for error subsea. Integrity and performance of systems and equipment are paramount. We have to push the boundaries in terms of the science to create the next generation of subsea technology for mature provinces. NSRI will undertake world-class research to introduce more intelligence, more communication and smart systems on the seabed."
John Mair, chairman of the Subsea Technology Advisory Group (STAG) and global technology manager with Subsea 7 added: "Our aim is to achieve one or two significant break-throughs in these areas of research which will lead to improved system integrity and enhanced production. For example, quantum based sensors for inspection promise the potential for resolutions several orders of magnitude better than existing ones. The introduction of self-learning, self-supporting autonomous underwater vehicles could reduce and eventually eliminate surface vessel support and the application of chaos theory could dramatically improve underwater communications."
A flagship research organisation which aims to sustain the UK's position at the forefront of global subsea technology and expertise, NSRI is seeking to become the national strategic centre of excellence for subsea research and excellence as well as facilitate increased UK expertise and skills in subsea technology. It will create value and drive the global subsea sector forward.
At the moment Aberdeen, Dundee, Newcastle and Robert Gordon universities have partnered with 20 companies to fund the institute and conduct research. But NSRI is now extending its academic reach by seeking additional university partners with best in class researchers up and down the country.
Pridden added: "We are embarking on a major fund-raising exercise with government and industry to be able to attract world-leading scientists and academics to a subsea centre of excellence in the UK.
"The UK clearly lags behind the rest of the world in terms of oil and gas R&D spend. Since the 1980's, the UK industry has had, quite frankly, minimal support from Government who, unlike in Norway, have provided no incentive for companies to invest in research in the UK.
"In this time of national austerity, subsea is one of the few sectors in the UK that has major, short-term growth potential, having achieved 40% growth in the last three years, despite the economic downturn. Manufacturing accounts for 35% of the £5.9billion output.
"Now is the time to capitalise on the growing global market, by investing in focused, UK R&D to increase our export potential, create jobs and stop further erosion of the UK's technology base. We must invest considerably more in subsea related research in the same way that we do in defence, aerospace and more recently renewables. I see no difference in subsea systems whether they exploit subsurface oil or gas reserves or energy from tidal forces. They are all subsea systems."