The 13 partner syndicate - which is a mix of established and young companies, including Belfast Harbour and Bombardier, academia and local public bodies - is the only Northern Irish or maritime recipient of the UK Research and Innovation flagship Strength in Places Fund.
Ulster University’s role in securing the funding harnesses the expertise of a multi-disciplinary team led by Professor Alistair McIlhagger of the School of Engineering and will facilitate the development of innovation-led, regional growth through a marine cluster and capitalises on research activities within both universities and the aerospace sector.
The collaborative research project will provide the opportunity for a cross sector project team of industrial and research partners leading to strong research output and opportunities for additional technology and commercial exploitation. As part of the Belfast Maritime Consortium, Ulster’s project lead Professor Alistair McIlhagger will work alongside Dr Iain Percy OBE, CEO Artemis Technologies and Jonathan Nicols, Systems Chief Engineer at Artemis Technologies.
Professor Alistair McIlhagger welcomed today’s funding announcement:
“We are delighted to be playing a key role in the implementation of the Belfast Maritime Consortium working in partnership with global experts such as Artemis Technologies. Central to this project is the value which can be harnessed through a collaborative, multi-disciplinary approach to delivering results that will be translated into value to the economy, society, culture, public policy, health, the environment and beyond academia.
"Ulster’s research expertise in engineering will allow the development of innovation-led, regional growth through a marine cluster and capitalises on research activities, primarily within the School of Engineering, within both universities and the aerospace sector. It will provide the opportunity to undertake research using fundamental challenges that can only be undertaken through this project team of industrial and research partners leading to strong research output and opportunities for additional technology and commercial exploitation. This is an unparalleled opportunity to showcase Ulster’s expertise in advanced manufacturing and engineering alongside the work of NIACE which will also play a key role in the Belfast Region City Deal.”
The three key research areas that Ulster University plans to develop include the design and development of 3D woven preforms for hydrofoils, integrated sensing systems and anti-fouling systems .
A hydrofoil has the effect of lifting a vessel up out of the water once a certain speed is reached reducing the drag of a given vessel by up to 90%, thus reducing its fuel consumption. As the forces on such a component will be great and reducing the weight is key, Ulster is investigating 3D woven carbon fibre composites as the main structural material. These are composites that have the addition of a through thickness yarn which greatly improve the materials impact resistance and eliminate delamination of the layers. As the hydrofoil includes high-tech control system developed by Artemis Technologies, the group wish to investigate integrated sensing systems to further improve the efficiency of the vessel. This efficiency however, can be degraded by the build-up of marine fouling which occurs when organisms attach themselves to underwater objects; the project will also investigate novel methods to minimise this occurrence. Ulster has been developing this 3D woven technology for many years primarily with the aerospace industry and this project provides a fantastic opportunity to develop a fundamental understanding of the materials but also of addressing scale up in such a unique and exciting product.
Professor Cathy Gormley-Heenan, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research and External Affairs at Ulster University commented:
“Ulster University is delighted to be involved in this project that will reignite the marine industry within Northern Ireland, through bringing together local expertise in real-time simulation, composites manufacturing and innovations in Belfast. This project strongly aligns with ‘Ulster University’s Strategic Plan to deliver outstanding research that encourages the innovation, leadership and vision needed to help our community thrive”.
The Belfast consortium brings together a range of established and young firms, academia and public bodies, including: Ulster University, Belfast Harbour, Bombardier Belfast, Northern Ireland Advanced Composites Engineering (NIACE), Creative Composites, Energia, Catalyst, Invest Northern Ireland, Belfast Met, Queen’s University, Belfast, Ards and North Down Borough Council, and Belfast City Council.