An industry-government partnership aims to establish a UK maritime network and help realise the sector’s 2050 targets, writes Richard Westgarth
As an island nation with a long seafaring tradition, the UK has an enviable heritage in technology and innovation in the maritime sector. It’s a sector that continues to grow and is now looking for potential benefits from the adoption of Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies. This is accelerating as we begin to look to recover from and increase our long-term resilience to, the Covid-19 pandemic.
In order for the UK to capitalise on these developments, it has been recognised by both industrial and academic communities that a more collaborative approach was required for research and innovation in the sector. A core group of UK companies and universities have been working to generate national scale funding.
Alongside this, in 2019 the UK Government Department for Transport published its first long-term strategy for UK maritime sector in a generation: ‘Maritime 2050: Navigating the Future’. It sets out the UK ambition to be world-leading on safety, technology, skilled people, and the environment. The strategy contains a wealth of recommendations and provides the UK with a real opportunity to regain a position as a leading innovator in maritime science and technology.
The publication of the strategy has encouraged Industry and Government to jointly fund the establishment of a research and innovation hub, Maritime Research and Innovation UK (MarRI-UK). This initiative addresses these recommendations and provides a focus for Research and Innovation in the sector bridging academia, industry, and government. Its aim is to establish a network of regional, industrial and academic communities to overcome the challenge of fragmented and incoherent research and innovation in the UK. This recognises that other industrial sectors have created centres or hubs to coordinate research that attract significant levels of industry and Government funding.
MarRI-UK is an open consortium, formally established in July 2019, aimed at attracting Government investment into the maritime sector for innovation by demonstrating industry/academic willingness to cooperate and co-invest. The founding members are BAE Systems, BMT, Babcock International, Lloyd’s Register, QinetiQ and Shell, together with the universities of Newcastle, Southampton, Strathclyde & UCL, and the Society of Maritime Industries.
Its focus is on mid-Technology Readiness Level (TRL) Innovations that address the ‘valley of death’ between ‘discovery and research’ and ‘commercialisation’ with a focus on technology and systems. It will provide coordination across the diverse UK Maritime industry. Providing an opportunity for much needed collaboration and synergy nationwide to meet challenges and opportunities in the maritime sector.
MarRI-UK will be a hybrid physical and virtual working structure, encompassing a range of centres to be announced across the UK and which already exist, with a small core team based at the University of Strathclyde. It is developing a shared research and innovation programme driven by industry needs.
MarRI-UK is now open for membership to all UK companies irrespective of size. We aim to make MarRI-UK a large enough critical mass and regional spread that it persuades Government to pay attention and prioritise resource for the maritime sector to achieve the 2050 vision. We believe this is more likely to happen if we cooperate across the UK.
Three tier levels for industry membership is available to suit a wide variety of companies. By joining MarRI-UK, members can propose research and innovation agenda items and projects. The objectives and planning of MarRI-UK activities is based on company needs and will direct the development of maritime research and innovation planning. This will be a significant opportunity for members to engage in multidisciplinary research to achieve practical, effective solutions for members’ technological challenge through strong integration between industry, representative organisations, and academia.
With funding from the Department for Transport, MarRI-UK have already administered two research and innovation calls within mid TRL (TRL 3-7) aligned to the Maritime 2050 Strategy:
1. Clean Maritime Call
£1.5M funding was available to finance technology, process innovations or services that offer significant improvements to systems, timings, processes or technology for clean maritime services and operations, and align with Maritime 2050 Zero Emission sub-theme and/or the Clean Maritime Plan. Following the competition, funding to a total value of £1.4M was awarded to 10 projects.
For full details visit: www.marri-uk.org/funding-opportunities/clean-maritime-call/clean-maritime-call-winners
2. Technology and Innovation in UK Maritime Call
£1.5M funding was available to fund innovative maritime technologies that demonstrate potential applications for innovative technology or for proof of concept of new ideas that offer benefits to maritime services and operations. This call has now been closed and successful projects will be announced shortly.
To find out more about MarRI-UK and how to get involved, please visit: www.marri-uk.org
Or contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
About the author
Richard Westgarth, BEng, CEng, FIET, FRINA, has been active in developing the MarRI-UK initiative for a number of years. He has over 40 years of experience in the defence and maritime sectors as an innovation strategist and business adviser. He is currently Head of Campaigns at BMT.