Newcastle University is to lead a national centre for subsea and offshore engineering as part of a major drive to develop new materials and technologies to explore the world’s oceans.
The Neptune National Centre for Subsea and Offshore Engineering is unveiled today by Business Secretary Vince Cable as a key part of the Government's Oil and Gas Strategy. It will be the first of its kind in the UK, bringing together industry and academia to create a world-class engineering research facility.
Developing technologies that can withstand one of the world’s harshest environments, the new centre will be at the forefront of our quest to harness the ocean's potential as a source of food, energy and medicine.
Building on the region's maritime heritage and Newcastle University's world-leading expertise in marine engineering, the Neptune Centre will be developed on the north bank of the River Tyne on the Neptune Energy Park, part of Shepherd Offshore. It will be a centrepiece for the revival of this part of Tyneside, bringing with it jobs and investment.
The Secretary of State said: “The UK's oil and gas sector is crucial to the economy, so we’ve worked closely with the sector on today’s industrial strategy. But its future success relies on it being underpinned by the latest science and technology.
“This cutting edge new facility will help put our academic community and industry at the centre of subsea and offshore engineering research. It will drive up skills and develop the innovations needed to fuel growth in the North Sea.”
The project will be part-funded through the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) from the Catalyst Fund and matched with funding from Newcastle University and the private sector.
Also supported by Newcastle City Council, it includes plans for unique Hyperbaric Chamber and Environmental Test facilities - capable of testing technologies and materials at temperatures and pressures equivalent to those found at the very deepest ocean depths.
Project lead Professor Nick Wright, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation at Newcastle University, said: “The Neptune Centre will create a unique facility that will significantly enhance research capacity, not just at Newcastle University but in the UK as a whole – providing a focus for the development of both new technology and academic-industry relationships that underpin future growth.
“Newcastle University has a long tradition of applied engineering research focussed on the marine sector – reflecting the history and tradition of both the University and the NE region. This new national centre will act as a place for industry and academia to interact, providing crucial infrastructure for emerging research opportunities. It will also provide a unique training ground for highly skilled graduates, addressing key skill shortages currently faced by UK industry.”
David Sweeney, HEFCE Director, Research, Innovation and Skills, said: “HEFCE investment, combined with contributions from the university and the private sector, will enable this important research centre to be created. It will make a significant long-term impact not only on research, but also on skills and the economy.”
Professor David Delpy, Chief Executive of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) said: "Newcastle University has a fine track record of engineering research which EPSRC is proud to have supported.
"This pedigree means the work at the new Neptune Centre will build on existing expertise and capability to achieve critical mass in areas that EPSRC has identified as strategically important to the UK, specifically the need for fault tolerant electronics and distributed computing in difficult and extreme environments. We are confident that research at the centre will have impact within academia and industry and that collaborative work with other institutions will bring even wider benefits."
Iain Gray, Chief Executive, Technology Strategy Board said: "The Technology Strategy Board is delighted to see that the Neptune Centre is being established in the North East, and are sure that it will make a significant and valuable contribution to the UK’s sub-sea engineering know-how and capacity. We look forward to working with the Centre and helping to support the businesses who engage with the innovative programmes it aims to deliver.”
The Neptune Centre already has the backing of leading UK companies through the Subsea North-East Consortium including Shepherd Offshore, BEL Valves and SMD.
Richard Dodd, Director of BEL Valves which is part of the British Engines Group, said the investment would further boost the North East’s reputation as a world leader in subsea and offshore engineering.
“This partnership between Newcastle University and companies such as BEL Valves is a major opportunity for the region,” he said. “It will allow us to grow our capabilities and skills base to keep us at the forefront of this highly specialised field of engineering.”
Director of Shepherd Offshore Charles Shepherd said: “This is a fantastic development for the new energy park. We welcome Newcastle University onto the site and look forward to working with them in this world-leading research and development facility.”
Andrew Hodgson, Vice Chair of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership and Chair of Subsea NE, said: “The subsea sector is a vital part of the economic regeneration within the North East of England. There are a significant number of technology-led world leading enterprises in the region and this centre will provide a significant capability to generate new and exciting collaborative projects. Our vision remains to make the North East the recognised centre for subsea technologies on an international scale.”