Lowestoft: Scour Prevention Systems rolls out its ‘mat’ to target new markets

Katie Musgrave of Scour Prevention with a scaled tank testing carried out at the University of East

Katie Musgrave of Scour Prevention with a scaled tank testing carried out at the University of East Anglia - Credit: Archant

Scour Prevention Systems, the company behind an innovative method for protecting offshore installations against seabed erosion, is stepping up its drive to roll-out the concept on a commercial basis.

The company, a member of the East Anglian Daily Times’ Suffolk Future50 listing of up-and-coming businesses, attended the Subsea Expo event, Europe’s largest annual exhibition for the subsea sector, which took place in Aberdeen in early February.

Scour Prevention ? which also won the One to Watch category, sponsored by NWES and dedicated to Future50 members, in the 2013 EADT Business Awards ? was supported at the event by UK Trade & Investment (UKTI), with the company being nomimated in the UKTI-sponsored New to Exporting category of the Subsea Business Awards which were announced during the exhibition.

Although it missed out on winning the award, its nomination in the category, combined with its trade stand presence at the exhibition alongside fellow finalists, gave the company a potentially valuable opportunity to promote its field-proven Scour Prevention Mat to a large and important new audience.

The mat is designed to offer an efficient and relatively low-cost solution to the problem of scour, which affects many off-shore installations. It results from the action of tidal currents and waves on the structure, which tends to scour away the surrounding seabed, leaving an increasingly large hole and potentially compromising the stability of the installation.

Besides upright structures, such as wind turbines and the legs of oil and gas platforms, underwater cables laid on he sea bed can also be affected, and so a cost-effective solution has huge potential not just in the North Sea but around the world.

Scour Prevention Systems’ approach, the invention of Robert (Bob) Durrant, a commercial diver, involves connecting end-of-life car tyres to form a matrix which can then be laid around the structure to prevent holes from forming.

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Mr Durrent had long been aware, from diving at the same locations year after year, that abandoned tyres falling to the seabed tended to fill up with sand and stay in the same place, regardless of whether the seabed around them had shifted or not.

When he heard about the challenge that scour represented to the offshore wind industry, he realised that there was big potential for tyres to offer a highly effective but simple solution to the problem.

Scour Prevention Systems, which is based at the OrbisEnergy building in Lowestoft, was incorporated in 2009 by two directors from Norwich-based North Sea diving contractor Underwater Surveys, including Bob Durrant, and two from energy research and development company 4NRG, which is also based at OrbisEnergy.

It is now led by executive chairman John Balch, a leading figure in the offshore industry across the UK with strong international connections, with the team also including project manager Warren Hoskins-Davies and product engineer Katie Musgrave.

For its first two years the company focused on research and development, proving the concept in a test tank and securing patent protection.

The system works because while tyres are heavy enough not to float away they are similar in density to the natural material of the seabed. This means that they not only hold sand in place but do not themselves cause scour, unlike attempts to protect installations by surrounding them with rocks.

Full-scale offshore trials began at the Scroby Sands offshore wind farm, just off the coast from Great Yarmouth, in 2011 and were completed successfully last summer, with the system receiving an endorsement from Germany energy group E.ON.

Mike Lewis, E.ON’s chief operating officer for wind power, said: “After a lengthy two stage trial at the Scroby Sands Wind Farm, the mattress system has proven, beyond doubt, that it stabilises the immediate seabed area on which it has been installed, thereby eliminating the onset of scour.

“The mattresses, used in conjunction with a tyre-filled net system to infill existing scour holes around turbine monopiles, have successfully migrated seabourne aggregate back into the scour hole thereby eliminating scour around the monopile.”

Besides its inclusion in the EADT’s Suffolk Future50 listing, which it has now retained for a second year, and its success in the EADT Business Awards, Scour Prevention Systems was also named last November in media group Archant’s Green100 guide to environmentally-aware businesses across Suffolk and Norfolk.

And its credentials were further enhanced in January this year when Scour Prevention acheived ISO 9001 quality management accreditation from the British Standards Institute.

The company was supported in its application by Standards UK, funded by the Manufacturing Advisory Board as part of its grant scheme for small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

With the mats consisting largely of tyres which would otherwise be a waste product, stringent quality management was always a key focus for the business and achieving ISO accreditation is seen as offering further assurance to customers than the systems is appropriate and effective.

Warren Hoskins-Davies said: “We’re really proud to have successfully achieved this certification. It helps us to ensure customer satisfaction is at the forefront of everything we do.”

And John Balch added: “The accreditation adds yet more weight to our product endorsement from E.On to send a strong signal that we are ready to provide the industry with effective scour solutions.”

Katie Musgrave, who joined the the business in 2011, said the company was now stepping up the commercialisation of the mats.

“The Subsea Expo was a great opportunity for us to present our scour prevention product to the sector and explore new and exciting opportunities to export to the global subsea market,” she said.

“There was a lot of interest in the product and we picked up a number of potential leads. It is early days and too soon to talk about any of these but we have a lot of enquiries which are keeping us very busy at the moment.”

It is also a case of “watch this space” on the jobs front, with the current team of three full-time staff likely to increase in the near future.