Wind turbine arrays, fish farms and seaports are to be combined into giant offshore facilities that can ease pressure on crowded coastlines and access some of the untapped potential of Europe's oceans.
Pilot studies are already underway for these facilities that will sustainably produce food and energy by, for example, combining wave, wind, solar and thermal power with fish farms, shellfish beds and seaweed plantations.
‘We are looking at how to use the ocean space in an optimum way,’ said Professor Erik Damgaard Christensen, coordinator of the EU-funded MERMAID project.
The MERMAID project is using four pilot sites - in the North Sea near the Netherlands, in the Baltic Sea near Denmark, in the Atlantic Ocean near Spain, and in the Mediterranean near Italy, to develop the techniques it needs to build large-scale platforms by the time it finishes in 2015.
The benefit of bringing these activities together is that, for example, fish produce nutrients that can feed shellfish, which in turn clean the water. Seaweed can act as a valuable defence against ocean waves, while also providing the raw material for bio-based products such as bioplastics and biofuel.
It is urgent that researchers develop new ways to produce fish sustainably because fish consumption is increasingly rapidly. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said that between 1970 and 2000 consumption per person increased from 11 kg to almost 16 kg per year. The risk is that increased demand will lead to overfishing and deplete natural fish stocks.
‘We want to develop novel innovative design concepts for offshore platforms to address different physical conditions – from deep water to shallow and inner waters,’ said Prof. Damgaard.
For example, offshore complexes 10 km by 10 km – the size of the Spanish city of Barcelona – would combine fish farming with large wind farms. The idea is that, rather than building new platforms, the project would combine existing structures.
‘We are looking at how to use the ocean space in an optimum way,’
Professor Erik Damgaard Christensen
The EU-funded TROPOS project, which finishes in 2015, is developing a blueprint for deep water platforms.
These could include combined fish and wind farms, seaports, or 'leisure islands’ which could generate their own energy to power hotels and activities such as underwater observation facilities, diving bases and marinas.
For the leisure islands, one idea would be to create them up to 2 km from the shore in areas such as Crete and the Canary Islands – where space for tourism is in short supply.
It would help boost Europe’s tourist industry, which generates approximately a tenth of the EU’s economic output, according to European Commission statistics.
‘The idea for the tourism sector is to have different models, for people to go to the platform on a regular basis,’ said TROPOS project manager Eduardo Quevedo.
The need to find ways to relieve pressure from the coast and to exploit the oceans sustainably is urgent. At the moment, these projects are working out the technology needed to create these facilities, however they hope to have a demonstration version up and running within the next five to 10 years.
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