The growing power of Trondheim

Trondheim in Norway is becoming the hub of development as further research into ocean technologies move institutions to cater for this latest demand.

NTNU is the largest university in Norway along with its other campuses in Alesund and Gjøvik for all things maritime related. It’s main focus has been in fisheries and aquaculture, but with developments in green technologies is also seeing more happen in the area of windfarms.

Trondheim has a reputation, particularly in Scandinavia, for producing some of the brightest minds in the maritime industry. It is a reputation the university is keen to maintain says Sverre Steen, head of department marine technology, NTNU. 80-90% technical students graduate from NTNU and the department currently has 110 PHD students, “This shows that we are a research-intensive department”, says Steen.

“The strategy of NTNU Department of Marine Technology is to develop excellence in generic fields within marine technology – marine structural engineering, hydrodynamics, marine control systems, safety, and marine design, and apply to current topics, like for instance offshore wind turbines. This strategy allows us to maintain a fairly stable base of courses and introduce new application examples in the courses as they become relevant to industry. We have access to very good laboratory facilities which are important tools for researchers and students to study practical applications”, he says.

The university is also core located with SINTEF Ocean which also carries out research in maritime technologies. “This set up has provided for a very good close collaboration over many years”, explains Steen, “We are working with SINTEF on many research projects and they are also teaching and supervising students for us. This gives a close two-way cooperation.”

He also notes that: “We have developed the Ocean School of Innovation to educate our doctoral candidates in innovation and entrepreneurship. However, developing a culture for innovation and establishing spin-off companies is probably the most important factor.”

Together both NTNU and SINTEF make the largest marine technology research centre, which is not solely based on its number of masters candidates, but also in terms of the research that it conducts. Working in collaboration has allowed for a large range of laboratories to be used for conducting the research. The facilities include an ocean basin laboratory, towing tank, wave basins, a construction lab and more recently an offshore robotics laboratory.

Having all these facilities Steen notes that: “the department is addressing all areas of technology to do with oceans.” This is a natural step for the Norwegian research centre, as the sea that surrounds its rugged coastline is larger than its land mass. “Norwegian export earnings show that 85% comes from ocean-based industries”, he adds.

NTNU and SINTEF have both noticed that there is an overlap starting to happen in the development of the technologies being developed for the various industries. The segments marine resources, minerals, energy and applications, “one of the ideas behind these areas is that most of these topics are multidisciplinary”, comments Steen.

From this more cross collaboration both with research centres in Trondheim and companies has formed a supercluster, as Steen explains: “ An industry focused towards one application, for instance offshore service ships, can more easily re-focus on new applications, such as ferries, explorer cruise ships and advanced fishing vessels when the marked for the offshore service ships is reduced, and they can easily find very competent sub-suppliers in the cluster that can support also these new applications.”

The flexibility of crossing over industries allows both skills and knowledge to be shared more easily helping to develop technologies that will serve multiple industries.

“Employees will move between different companies within the cluster and in that way contribute to share knowledge. This holds true also for the research and education sector – we focus on maintaining and developing a comprehensive generic knowledge base, which is applied to new applications based on market needs, in collaboration with the industry”, adds Steen.

SINTEF is also seeing new opportunities open up in the ocean industries, as the oil and gas market start to diversify its portfolio. So much so that Anders Valland, research manager, SINTEF ocean notes that since 2014 nine percent of projects where in oil and gas, in 2019 this has risen to 14%.

“This reflects what’s has been going on in Norway since 2015. We have been forced to transition and we are using our knowledge and the knowledge base to go into new industries”, explains Valland.

Valland notes many projects that are happening globally that involve the ocean industries, such as in Singapore where they are exploring the idea of floating cities as space is running out to build on. In addition, the aquaculture market is starting to boom in Norway, with the recent Sanmar project for ocean farming. SINTEF will also be undergoing a facelift with the refurbishment of its facilities, which will then be called the Ocean Space Centre that will be receiving an NOK6.1billion investment.

Sanmar is playing an important role as it is not just the owner of the ocean farm but is also helping fund the research that is being carried out at SINTEF. This is not the only big name to be involved with ocean technology research projects being carried out.

The large majority of the research projects at NTNU Department of Marine Technology are financed by The Norwegian Research Council together with the industry. “We also have EU-projects, projects fully funded by industry, and projects fully funded by the Norwegian Research Council”, adds Steen.

In addition, Equinor is also involved in a lot of the projects and start-ups that are now starting to come from Norway, helping to promote this technology. Having a company on that scale being so involved may be questioned by some. But, Steen comments that: “Oil & gas is being increasingly politically controversial and could mean that a partner like Equinor might be problematic for a university. So far, we have not experienced any attempts from Equinor to influence outcome and conclusions from the research we do with them.”

Steen explains that being able to do research in engineering can be in most cases very helpful to cooperate with the owner of the problem. Good engineering research looks at addressing specific problems, and good knowledge of these problems is therefore important. He concludes that: “a company that both knows the problems and has the will and resources to fund research is a perfect partner for many types of engineering research.” 

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