The global reach of UWA research has been recognised in many forums, but perhaps none so unusual as the Scottish Parliament.

When the First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, stood at Holyrood to publicly welcome research findings by a collaborative group including UWA Assistant Professor Scott Draper it was certainly an unfamiliar setting for public acclaim.

The tidal energy research, involving a team from Oxford and Edinburgh Universities along with UWA, found that turbines installed across Pentland Firth off Orkney could generate the equivalent to almost half of Scotland’s electricity needs.

The notorious firth, lying between Orkney and the Scottish mainland, has some of the fastest tidal currents in the UK, reported to be up to an astonishing 30 km/h west of Pentland Skerries.

Researchers looked at how many turbines it would be feasible to build, how a series of turbines would interact with each other and averaged out the variations caused by the fortnightly and seasonal cycle of tides.

“I welcome the work by the universities of Edinburgh, Oxford and Western Australia, which builds on last year’s research and provides a valuable insight into how best to exploit that tremendous resource to meet Scotland’s electricity needs,” First Minister Salmond told the parliament.

Scott is just one of three young academics marking a significant impact in offshore engineering research at UWA, as the University continues to drive innovation in all aspects of the resources sector.

Teams are involved in advanced subsea geotechnics in extreme marine environments, pioneering advances in floating LNG, major developments in coal-seam gas and the world’s largest geosequestration projects along many other things, working to provide solutions to some of industry’s biggest challenges.

In his role supported by the Lloyd’s Register Foundation (LRF) Scott is focused equally on three aspects of offshore hydrodynamics and engineering: marine renewable energy, sediment transport and scour, and most recently, wave statistics.

He collaborates broadly on tidal and wave energy research with academics and industry across Australia, New Zealand and the UK and works with a team of four academics at UWA to investigate problems of scour and sediment transport using the University’s revolutionary O-tube facilities.

Scott has co-authored an industry guideline on subsea pipeline stability, which accounts for pipeline lowering due to scour on a mobile seabed.

Ironically fellow UWA academic Hugh Wolgamot, also part of the offshore hydrodynamics group at the  internationally renowned Centre for Offshore Foundations Systems (COFS), completed his DPhil (PhD) at Oxford University at the same time as Scott, which saw both form important contacts with leaders in their fields.

Originally from NSW, Hugh said his interest in ocean wave energy utlisation can be traced back to an early role as a coastal engineer working for WorleyParsons on Sydney’s desalination plant project, where he was involved in wave forecasting.

“There were issues with wave induced motions of the vessel laying the pipe running across Botany Bay from the desal plant to central Sydney,” Hugh explained. “It was a good introduction to some of the problems that oil and gas companies face in a much more major way as they construct pipelines and offshore structures in our oceans.

At UWA Hugh is working with Winthrop Professors David White, Mike Efthymiou and Liang Cheng on aspects of wave structure interaction related to Floating Liquid Natural Gas (FLNG) operations in Australia.

He hopes a background in ocean renewables will provide a different perspective on solving problems in this area and that new knowledge gained in floating systems can be fed back into wave energy problems, with both areas sharing common ground.

Like his colleague Wenhua Zhao, Hugh is based jointly in the School of Civil, Environmental and Mining Engineering and COFS.

Prior to UWA, Wenhua was busy completing a PhD in Offshore Engineering at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. He began his academic career with a bachelor degree in Engineering (Offshore) from the China University of Petroleum in 2008.

Wenhua’s PhD research on numerical and experimental studies of the hydrodynamics of FLNG systems was so highly regarded he was awarded an Academic Scholarship for Excellent Doctoral Candidates from the China Ministry of Education in 2012.

At UWA he is working on the hydrodynamics of multi-body systems in side-by-side offloading configurations, in particular developing a reliable model to predict the hydrodynamic performance of an FLNG facility and an FLNG carrier during side-by-side offloading.

“This coupled model takes into account the vessel motions, mooring dynamics, hydrodynamic interactions in between the multiple bodies and forces on hawsers and fenders,” he explained.

“It will help us determine and optimize the operating window for LNG offloading and will be used to investigate the main parameters affecting the hydrodynamics of the multi-body system. Ultimately it will contribute to the operating practices and design of FLNG facilities.”

Wenhua’s key research topics include the hydrodynamics  of offshore structures, wave and structure interactions and sloshing. He uses both numerical and physical modeling to tackle these nonlinear problems.

Winthrop Professor David White, who holds the Shell EMI Chair in Offshore Engineering, said that these new appointments are part of a growing critical mass at UWA across offshore engineering, further building  the international renown of COFS. 

“Australia will host many of the first FLNG projects alongside our conventional offshore oil and gas projects, and also supports an embryonic ocean renewables industry. UWA is capitalizing on the FLNG first mover opportunity in partnership with Shell and other operators”.

UWA is already recognized as a global leader in geotechnical engineering, through the work of COFS. These new appointments are part of a strategic growth into floating systems that builds on our strengths and addresses the local challenges and opportunities associated with FLNG and ocean renewables.

Photo: Making a significant impact in offshore engineering research - Scott Draper (back left), Wenhua Zhao (front) and Hugh Wolgamot (back right) with UWA's revolutionary O-tube facilities which simulate extreme underwater wave and current conditions

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