En­gi­neer­ing the future

Western Suburbs Weekly - - Look Local - By JOSH ZIM­MER­MAN

CIVIL en­gi­neer­ing meth­ods pi­o­neered in Western Aus­tralia are help­ing to ac­cel­er­ate the shift to re­new­able en­ergy pro­duc­tion in Europe.

Boor­a­goon res­i­dent and UWA Head of Civil, En­vi­ron­men­tal and Min­ing En­gi­neer­ing Barry Le­hane has spent more than three decades re­search­ing and de­sign­ing foun­da­tions for off­shore oil and gas fa­cil­i­ties.

With a grow­ing global em­pha­sis on re­new­able en­ergy sources in the face of cli­mate change, Pro­fes­sor Le­hane’s de­sign meth­ods are now in­creas­ingly be­ing ap­plied to off­shore wind tur­bines.

“Since the re­source boom took off, there has been a lot of work done here in WA around de­sign­ing foun­da­tions and in­fra­struc­ture for projects like Gor­gon, Wheat­stone and Ichthys,” Prof Le­hane said.

“One of the de­sign meth­ods used, UWA-05, has evolved from our re­search at the univer­sity and is now used in all in­ter­na­tional stan­dards.

“The big dif­fer­en­tia­tor be­tween on­shore and off­shore projects is that off­shore is far more ex­pen­sive. Some ves­sels used to in­stall off­shore foun­da­tions cost about $1 mil­lion a day so striv­ing for ef­fi­ciency was the fo­cus of the re­search.

“Our re­search has saved the oil and gas com­pa­nies a lot of money be­cause it has re­sulted in a re­duc­tion in both the size of the foun­da­tions and the prob­a­bil­ity of any fail­ures.”

Prof Le­hane re­cently re­turned from a trip to Eng­land where he helped over­see ex­per­i­men­tal re­search into the per­for­mance of wind tur­bine foun­da­tions when con­structed in chalk, which is com­mon in the south­ern North Sea.

“Wind farms are tak­ing off mas­sively and there are huge plans to tran­si­tion to­wards a more sus­tain­able en­ergy sup­ply,” he said.

“Land in many parts of Europe is at a pre­mium so they tend to lo­cate these farms off­shore where there is less ob­jec­tion from res­i­dents.

“Peo­ple of­ten com­plain about noise and birds when lo­cated on land but wind farms can ac­tu­ally look quite nice in a ma­rine en­vi­ron­ment.”

Prof Le­hane said costs and an abun­dance of land mass meant off­shore wind tur­bines were un­likely to gain trac­tion in Aus­tralia but he be­lieved the days of non­re­new­ables, such as coal, were num­bered.

“I think it’s in ev­ery­one’s best in­ter­est, es­pe­cially the next gen­er­a­tion of stu­dents, to start see­ing re­new­ables as be­ing the future,” he said.

“In Europe that might mean wind tur­bines but in Aus­tralia it is likely more ef­fi­cient to look at so­lar.

About 1000 stu­dents are en­rolled in UWA’s school of Civil, En­vi­ron­men­tal and Min­ing En­gi­neer­ing with its sub­ject ar­eas civil, struc­tural and min­ing en­gi­neer­ing ranked in the top 50 in the QS World Univer­sity Rank­ings by Sub­ject in 2015.

Barry Le­hane out­side the UWA en­gi­neer­ing build­ing.

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