Blue Abyss: How East Anglia’s offshore industry could benefit from world-leading subsea and space research centre
PUBLISHED: 10:57 07 February 2017 | UPDATED: 10:57 07 February 2017
East Anglia’s offshore energy industry has been held up as a potential beneficiary of a new £65m subsea, space and life science training, research and testing centre.
Blue Abyss will offer the world’s biggest training pool – 50 metres deep with 41,000m3 volume complete with hyperbaric and hypobaric chambers – capable of simulating challenging offshore conditions for training and testing for diving and submersibles used in oil and gas and offshore renewables.
Proposals have been drawn up for the new facility at the University of Essex in Colchester which, if they receive planning consent, could be realised by the end of next year.
And putting such a resource within reach of the East of England energy industry could slash costs and accelerate innovation, with discussion already under way about how the supply chain can make best use of it.
Celia Anderson, of Blue Abyss, said it could cut costs for companies currently using deep pool and tank facilities in Fort William and on the south coast.
“There is huge pressure on offshore wind to bring down its costs and the companies involved are looking at every way to achieve that,” she said.
“Having a facility like Blue Abyss within easy travel distance of the east coast, with its huge potential to support innovation, fits into achieving these targets.
“Our clients can simulate the ROV [remotely-operated vehicle] installation of J tubes and connecting cables, changing bearings at the base of a turbine tower…the list is endless.”
Blue Abyss will be able to replicate the challenges of tidal, wave and current conditions in the Southern North Sea in a safe and controlled environment, offering multiple opportunities for simulation, cable connection training, submersibles training and testing for offshore wind installation, oil & gas work scopes, decommissioning solutions, deep sea diving and even drone training.
Blue Abyss’s Kuehnegger Human Performance Centre for human life science sector clients and its microgravity suite for human spaceflight, will also be housed in the building.
The team behind the project is in the final stages of seeking funding, and will then seek full planning consent for the site.
• Futuristic complex
The 50m-deep pool which is being offered as a facility to offshore companies is at the heart of the Blue Abyss complex, but the centre aims to be the world’s most comprehensive marine and space training, research and development centre.
Its opening roof and poolside crane mean equipment of up to 100 tonnes can be lifted and sunk into the pool, allowing it to be used for training and testing for commercial divers, submersibles and drones, with its stepped design permitting work to be done at different depths.
The complex will also include a micro-gravity simulation suspension suite for replicating the effects of weightlessness, and the Kuehnegger Human Performance Centre focusing on human spaceflight research and its benefits for terrestrial health care.
Blue Abyss would also offer a conference amphitheatre and training rooms, a 120-bed hotel with large central community area and on-site parking at the University of Essex’s Knowledge Gateway Innovation Park.
• The visionary
The sweeping design of Blue Abyss is the work of architect Robin Partington, whose work has shaped modern London’s skyline.
He led the design team of London’s Gherkin for Foster & Partners, working alongside prolific architect Sir Norman Foster for 17 years.
He was also involved with the high-rise residential Strata Tower and is currently working on the 42-floor 1 Merchant Square in Paddington – nicknamed the Cucumber – with his 50-strong team at Robin Partington & Partners (RPP).
Mr Partington created Blue Abyss in a sweeping design with gentle curves and tail to reflect a “perfect harmony between sea and space.”
Its shape resembles a horseshoe crab and a speeding comet created “to wrap around the people it serves”.
Mr Partington added: “Understanding how the different aspects of Blue Abyss work together and the problems you have to solve is very important, and helps to drive a design solution that makes the most efficient and effective use of space.”