Offshore research station to test wind and wave energy

Summary

Flanders latest ‘blue energy’ initiative is a testing station off the coast of Ostend, which will also be open to companies in the sector

Ostend becomes blue energy hub

With the construction of a testing centre off the coast of Ostend, West Flanders province will give the Flemish blue energy sector the opportunity to experiment with new innovations in real-life conditions at sea. The project, called Blue Accelerator, is also supported by the government of Flanders and the EU.

“We noticed a real need among companies and research centres for marine test infrastructure,” says Sarina Motmans, who co-ordinates the project at West Flanders’ development agency Pom West-Vlaanderen. “The new living lab should stimulate further development of expertise and concrete innovations.”

A central element of the project is a test station at sea, located about one kilometre off the coast. A large container full of testing equipment, it will be supported by poles sunk into the ocean floor.

Open to business

The station will at first focus on offshore wind energy, wave energy and tidal energy. Researchers will later extend its scope to include other marine and maritime research domains, such as aquaculture.

Blue Accelerator will be open to all parties in need of marine research equipment. “We will also cater to small and medium-sized business, who generally have difficulty accessing testing infrastructure,” explains Motmans. Vives University College, with locations across West Flanders, has already expressed an interest in using the station for tests with drones, which can improve management of offshore wind farms.

Blue Energy is a sector in full expansion, and Flemish companies and scientific institutions play an important role in it

- Minister Philippe Muyters

Blue Accelerator is part of Pom West-Vlaanderen’s broader plans for blue energy, which also aim to improve the collaboration between players in Flanders’ blue energy sector in order to encourage new innovations. One of Pom’s partners is GreenBridge, Ghent University’s science park at Ostend, where Flanders Maritime Laboratory is currently being built.

The lab will be home to a simulated wave tank, a coastal and ocean basin and a ship simulator. “Its infrastructure will be very complementary to our station,” says Motmans.

Pom West-Vlaanderen has requested a permit for the station and is awaiting the response of  Philippe De Backer, secretary of state for North Sea matters. Negotiations with partners for the construction of the infrastructure are ongoing. More info will be provided at a kick-off event that will take place on 13 June in Ostend.

Flanders is investing €735,400 in the project. “Blue Energy is a sector in full expansion, and Flemish companies and scientific institutions play an important role in it,” said innovation minister Philippe Muyters in a statement.

Blue planet

The EU is contributing €1.5 million, and the rest of the budget – €3.7 million – has already been promised from the other partners: West Flanders province, Vives, Ghent University, Vliz, Vito and TUA-West.

The commitment of Flanders to support blue energy developments was also demonstrated in March, when the region approved De Blauwe Cluster’s application to become a “spearhead cluster” – a partnership between companies, research centres and the government. The non-profit De Blauwe Cluster (The Blue Cluster) was initiated by leading Flemish companies like supermarket group Colruyt and dredging firm Deme.

De Blauwe Cluster will set up innovative research projects that contribute to economic activities in the North Sea, and beyond. Its members will work on ocean pollution, climate change, healthy food, energy, maritime accessibility and educational tourism. Its first projects will be presented next month during a kick-off event in Ostend.

Photo courtesy Toerisme Oostende, Westtoer