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How Marine-i is boosting marine technology innovation in Cornwall

By Professor Lars Johanning Marine-i Lead, University of Exeter

 A unique and ambitious programme

Part funded by the European Regional Development Fund, Marine-i is a pioneering scheme that has been designed to foster innovation in the marine technology sector in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. This sector has high growth potential and has therefore been identified as a key priority for the region.

Cornwall currently accounts for 8% of UK marine industry turnover and 1 in 7 of all UK marine jobs. We want to build on this powerful heritage and ensure that Cornwall plays a pivotal role in the sustainable marine tech industries of the future. These include marine energy, marine manufacturing, maritime operations and marine environmental technologies.

At the outset of the Marine-i programme, we set ourselves a challenging target of supporting 100 businesses, providing grant support to at least 66 marine businesses We are well on the way to smashing this target. As of today’s date, over 190 businesses have registered with Marine-i.

With the project running until the end of 2019, there is still more to be done, but this is a good juncture to reflect on what the project has already achieved and the difference we are making.

An exceptional package of support

Our vision is that Cornwall will be a global leader for research, technology development and expertise and the location of choice for businesses engaged in the development, deployment and operation of marine renewables technologies and the associated supply chain.

To achieve this, each of the six Marine-i partners have their own particular skills and specialist expertise that they can apply to help innovative businesses. This means that we can provide a bespoke package of support to marine businesses that is geared to their specific needs and delivered through one point of contact.

From day one, our support has encompassed consultancy, leading-edge research expertise, grant funding, subsidised graduate staff and access to outstanding test facilities, including the COAST Lab and the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult.

For example, the support by University of Plymouth and COAST Lab to ARC Marine, was described by their director Tom Birbeck as “a valuable catalyst in helping us along our journey towards commercialisation.

The businesses that have engaged with Marine-i like the fact that they are dealing with people who understand the unique challenges faced by marine technology businesses. Our team can help them bring their innovations to market more quickly and with a greater chance of success.

World class research collaboration

Marine-i provides valuable research support to businesses. Inyanga-Tech received support from University of Exeter, which undertook research looking at Operations, Maintenance, Reliability and Yield Analysis, relating to their innovative tidal energy technology. This research work helped build the business case and accelerate commercialisation of the technology.

University of Exeter has also helped 3D Kernow, a 3D printing company based in Cornwall. University of Exeter developed a research project to investigate the mechanical strength of their printed components, and how this can be improved. University of Exeter Research Fellow Dr Tessa Gordelier worked with 3D Kernow to investigate current best practice in the sector and to develop a suite of mechanical tests to optimise their printing practices. In collaboration with 3D Kernow. a suitable test specimen was developed and, working with Exeter Advanced Technologies Laboratory, ten different printing parameters were investigated, enabling the company to advance their technology to the next level.

A diverse range of grant-funded projects

To date, we have provided grant support to businesses working in fields as diverse as wave energy devices (AMOG), hybrid propulsion systems (Triskel Marine and Whiskerstay), offshore wind turbine tendering systems (Buoyant Works), unmanned surface vessels (Ultrabeam Hydrographic and Unmanned Survey Solutions), artificial reefs (ARC Marine), offshore pile drilling (Ocean Hydraulics), sail technology (Kiote), tidal energy (Inyanga-Tech), and marine conservation

The total £3.19m available through Marine Challenge Fund has been allocated, of which £1.7m is already contracted.

In the case of Global OTEC Resources, their grant from Marine-i helped establish their entire business in Cornwall, whilst the region’s focus on RD&I makes Cornwall the ideal base to develop their technology for use at resorts in the Maldives. Other international businesses that have opened offices in Cornwall as a result of Marine-i support are AMOG (Australia) and Navimeteo (Italy.)

Meanwhile, many UK based businesses have opened an office in Cornwall as a result of Marine-I support, including ARC Marine, Wave-Tricity, Imetrum, Turbulent Designs and STL.

And yet further start-up businesses have received support from Marine-i, including Unmanned Survey Solutions, Kiote, Solis Marine, Ultrabeam Hydrographic, Gaisford Marine, Jaxon Surfboards and TowFloat.

The factors that link the many projects we have supported is their high growth potential for the future, their ability to support new job creation in the Cornwall supply chain, and the opportunities that they offer to build important new global markets for Cornwall’s marine technology expertise.

Find out more about our case studies 

Strategic funding calls

To support the broader strategic development of key new technologies in Cornwall, we have launched two major funding calls.

A fund of up to £1 million was made available to support research, development and innovation in marine robotics and autonomous vessels, with particular emphasis on improving the reliability of autonomous systems, using robots to replace people in hazardous environments, increasing mission capabilities, and improving offshore monitoring.

A fund of up to £500,000 was designated for innovative marine data technologies and applications. It can help businesses develop new technologies which will reduce costs, create more advanced surveillance systems, and improve the accuracy of offshore monitoring.

Industry-leading events

Throughout the life of the Marine-i project, we have run regular Discovery Room sessions on a range of important marine technology topics. These give marine businesses an opportunity to get up to speed on the latest thinking on an aspect of marine technology, hear from the experts in the field, and participate in discussion sessions to hone their ideas. They are also an invaluable opportunity to network with people in the industry who may wish to collaborate on bringing new technologies to market.

The themes covered have included robotics and AI, hybrid propulsion, composite materials, improving wave energy technology, surveying and marine data, drone technology, wave to grid systems, floating offshore wind strategy, high-frequency radar, and emissions reduction technology.

Our unique 2030 New Horizons Conference brought together 100 key industry leaders to explore the future landscape for Research, Development and Innovation in the South West and to help inspire new ways in which to foster a more effective innovation culture for high-tech businesses.

And starting on March 13th 2019, Marine-i is launching a unique Masterclass in Innovation, which is free to businesses in Cornwall. This will equip businesses with the knowledge and skills they need to put innovation at the heart of their business, enabling long term business growth.

Making waves around the world

The initiatives that have been taken by the Marine-i project have been reported by industry titles around the world, including in the USA, Australia and Asia. All of this has helped to raise the profile of Cornwall as a world leader in marine technology innovation.

Most importantly, the vital support that has been provided to pioneering companies in the industry has helped to ensure that innovation is being built on solid foundations and that Cornwall has been able to grasp key opportunities for growth in the future, establishing a world-class marine technology sector.

Take advantage of this great opportunity

With another 9 months to run, we look forward to helping support more businesses in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly over this period. Find out more and contact us at