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Trevor Hardcastle and Cllr Paul Watson front, and consortium representatives behind

New frontier for offshore sector

A SUNDERLAND business that has pioneered cutting-edge technology that could transform the offshore sector has filed an international patent and is almost ready to begin trials.

Frontier Technical has developed new technology that could create modular floating offshore wind structures expected to be more cost-effective, efficient and environmentally-friendly than conventional structures. 

The company, which was set up by vastly experienced engineer Trevor Hardcastle, has assembled a consortium bringing together a wealth of experience to take the ‘MARLIN Modular Floating Platform Project’ forward.  It has received £300,000 funding from the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK, under the Energy Catalyst call and co-funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Department for International Development (DFID) to support proof of concept development .

Mr Hardcastle, who also holds a national position supporting innovation, chose to base Frontier Technical in Sunderland after being offered extensive advice and guidance from the city’s council’s business investment team.

He said: “I believe this kind of disruptive technology could revolutionise the offshore market, not only in deep-water locations, which require floating structures, but in shallower water where this technology will still work, and will be significantly easier to install and eventually decommission. 

“The support the project has garnered, with the highest calibre partners now round the table really does hint at the vast potential this technology has, and I am really excited to work alongside them as we move this from concept, to prototype and eventually to market.”

The company has plans to open a facility where the float modules will eventually be mass produced and the Port of Sunderland location and facilities are ideally suited with the new direct rail link into the port, new road connections and the New Wear Crossing due to be completed next year.  The extensive docks and direct access to the sea will allow swift direct delivery of raw materials to a factory, and easy exporting of finished goods to overseas markets directly from the port by container ships. 

The six-strong consortium includes regional specialists: Howell Marine Consulting, based in Morpeth, and PDL Solutions (Europe) Ltd of Hexham; as well as Sunderland City Council, the Port of Sunderland, the University of Sunderland and the University of Strathclyde, all working closely with Mr Hardcastle to develop a firm plan for the business.  Frontier has also taken space in Sunderland Software Centre, and hopes to work with organisations within the technology hub to explore how virtual reality could be used to test and refine his concept.

He added: “The combination of a software focused business space and the port just minutes down the road could not be better for Frontier.  

“I have always admired Sunderland’s engineering capabilities, having started my career sailing on a ship that was built in the city.  To be able to set up my business here and tap into the skills and assets Sunderland has to offer all these years later is fantastic.”

The company is currently testing a micro-version of the technology in the University of Sunderland’s AMAP (Automotive & Manufacturing Advanced Practice) facility, and will eventually develop larger prototypes on site that will be tested in the sea off the coast of Sunderland, before the project advances to the next stage.  The final versions of the floating modules will neatly fit inside international standard freight containers, making them transportable in bulk by road rail and sea, which will deliver vast cost savings compared to the construction of traditional offshore wind farm structures.

It is expected that – if everything goes to plan – the product could be ready to take to market within the next three to four years.

Councillor Paul Watson, leader of Sunderland City Council and chair of the port’s board, said: “Having worked in the shipyards many years ago, it is fantastic to think that this cutting-edge marine technology may soon be made on the banks of the River Wear, taking us full circle.

“There is a long and proud association with making things in Sunderland, and we have innovated in so many ways for so many years.  To see a company that marries together the key skills we have in the city so well, and that is beginning to be recognised nationally as potentially revolutionary technology that could transform this field is just fantastic, and as part of the consortium backing this company, through the council as well as Port of Sunderland, we look forward to working with Trevor to develop something that can put this city on the map for offshore technology and create dozens of jobs in the process.”