Engineering the future
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.