Ex­plor­ing the Deep­est Depths

Rain­bow­fish Ocean Tech­nol­ogy wants to help man reach one of the few re­main­ing places on earth it has yet to ex­plore, the Hadal Zone.

Norway-Asia Business Review - - F OREWORD - CHEYENNE HOLLIS

These fun­nel shaped ar­eas at the bot­tom of the ocean are lo­cated at least 6,500 me­tres be­low the sur­face. Species yet to be dis­cov­ered and even in­for­ma­tion about the ori­gins of Earth are just a few of the things that could be hid­ing here.

For sci­en­tists, the Hadal Zone is the fi­nal fron­tier for oceanol­ogy. Places such as the Mar­i­ana Trench, lo­cated more than 10,000 me­tres deep, con­tain a trea­sure trove of in­for­ma­tion. Mr Chi Chen, Se­nior Project Man­ager at Rain­bow­fish Ocean Tech­nol­ogy, be­lieves ev­ery deepsea re­search voy­age pro­vides sci­en­tist a chance to dis­cover new liv­ing species and helps us bet­ter un­der­stand the his­tory of the ocean.

“Hadal Zones are fun­nel shaped which means they are ac­cu­mu­la­tors. Ad­di­tion­ally, the cur­rent in Hadal Zones are slow and steady which allows sed­i­ment to record the his­tory of the ocean. For ex­am­ple, by analysing the car­bon con­tent of in­di­vid­ual lay­ers, we can find the biomass of dif­fer­ent ages,” Mr Chen de­tails. “We can also learn a lot from crea­tures in the Hadal Zones,

espe­cially the mi­crobes liv­ing in such ex­treme con­di­tions. These have be­come very im­por­tant for the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try.”

Rain­bow­fish has al­ready or­gan­ised two ex­plo­ration voy­ages to the Mar­i­ana Trench. The com­pany sent re­search ves­sels that launched full ocean depth lan­ders ca­pa­ble of reach­ing the bot­tom of the sea. The lan­ders were able to film the deep depths of the ocean and col­lected wa­ter, sed­i­ment and crea­ture sam­ples.

The de­vel­op­ment of that tech­nol­ogy was all part of the com­pany’s plan to build a manned ves­sel ca­pa­ble of reach­ing depths of 11,000 me­tres. The goal is to take sci­en­tists to the Mar­i­ana Trench in 2023. But with harsh con­di­tions not like any­thing recorded on the sur­face, Rain­bow­fish has found it­self in un­charted waters.

“I think send­ing a manned ve­hi­cle to the ex­treme depths of the ocean is like send­ing a manned space­ship to Mars. Although hu­mans have al­ready sent many probes to Mars, we still want to be the first to step on the red planet. How­ever, the chal­lenges of go­ing from an un­manned mis­sion to a manned one are great,” Mr Chen ex­plains.

He con­tin­ues, “From a tech­ni­cal as­pect, a manned sub­ma­rine is ba­si­cally an un­manned ves­sel equipped with a much stronger cabin sphere; a ro­bust and re­li­able life sup­port sys­tem; and a well­func­tion­ing wire­less com­mu­ni­ca­tion and po­si­tion­ing sys­tem. How­ever, none of these added sys­tems are easy to de­sign or assem­ble.”

The Rain­bow­fish Project was ini­ti­ated by Chi­nese sci­en­tist Prof. We­icheng Cui who be­gan his jour­ney as the deputy di­rec­tor of a manned sub­mersible that reached a depth of 7,000 me­tres. From there he launched Rain­bow­fish in 2014 with the goal to build a full ocean depth ves­sel that was ca­pa­ble of send­ing sci­en­tists from all over the world to the deep­est points of the ocean. How­ever, this is only part of the firm’s vision.

Deep sea so­lu­tions provider

The manned sub­mersible ca­pa­ble of reach­ing the ex­treme depths of the Mar­i­ana Trench may get most of the head­lines, but Rain­bow­fish is de­vel­op­ing what it calls a Mov­able Lab­o­ra­tory of Hadal Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy.

Ac­cord­ing to Mr Chen, the com­pany is work­ing on two re­search ves­sels; two manned sub­mersibles; an au­ton­o­mous and re­mote-op­er­ated ve­hi­cle; and serv­able lan­ders. It is all part of the com­pany’s plan to be­come a deep sea so­lu­tions provider.

“We would like to be the Ocean X of China. Not only are we build­ing a sub­mersible ves­sel ca­pa­ble of reach­ing the deep­est part of the ocean, but we wish to pro­vide a whole set of so­lu­tions for un­der­wa­ter re­search, engi­neer­ing and en­ter­tain­ment projects,” Mr Chen noted.

Prof Chui wasn’t alone in launch­ing Rain­bow­fish. He was joined by Dr. Xin Wu, a PhD class­mate of his, who has fo­cused on com­mer­cial­is­ing the deep sea tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ments that Prof. Cui is de­vel­op­ing.

The com­pany has launched deepsea in­tel­li­gent equip­ment so­lu­tions where it pro­vides ve­hi­cles to sci­en­tists in­ter­ested in study­ing deep-sea sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy; offshore ma­rine geo­phys­i­cal re­source com­pa­nies want­ing to reach ma­te­ri­als; and even tourists in­ter­ested in see­ing what lies at the bot­tom of the ocean.

In ad­di­tion to this, Rain­bow­fish has es­tab­lished busi­ness units for ocean big-data ser­vices and deep-sea bio-tech­nol­ogy. Com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion is im­por­tant for the com­pany as it looks to reach its am­bi­tious goals with­out tak­ing any cap­i­tal from state-owned en­ter­prises. Instead, the com­pany has been think­ing out­side the box in or­der to es­tab­lish a wide range of mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial part­ner­ships.

Built to last

The com­pany is one of a few work­ing on the rel­a­tively new “State Sup­port + Pri­vate Cap­i­tal” model that is be­ing used to sup­port high-tech project de­vel­op­ment in China. Instead of be­ing funded by state-owned en­ter­prises, Rain­bow­fish has fo­cused on pri­vate cap­i­tal and com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion with govern­ment sup­port com­ing by other means.

“The govern­ment, no mat­ter cen­tral or lo­cal, only sup­ports us with poli­cies. All of our share­hold­ers come from the pri­vate sec­tor. This has meant that com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion of our tech­nol­ogy and what we ac­quire is our top pri­or­ity,” Mr Chen ex­plains.

One pol­icy im­ple­mented by the govern­ment was the cre­ation of the Lin­gang Oceanic High-Tech In­dus­trial Park in­side the New Spe­cial Area of the Shang­hai Pi­lot Free Trade Zone. This area is home to the Rain­bow­fish re­search and de­vel­op­ment cen­tre and pro­vides com­pa­nies en­gaged in deep sea ex­plo­ration, ocean engi­neer­ing equip­ment, ma­rine re­sources de­vel­op­ment and ma­rine medicine with var­i­ous ben­e­fits in­clud­ing as­sis­tance with rent and tal­ent re­cruit­ment.

Rain­bow­fish also has a close re­la­tion­ship with several do­mes­tic in­sti­tutes. Prof. Cui es­tab­lished the Hadal Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy Re­search Cen­tre at Shang­hai Ocean Uni­ver­sity and is the chair pro­fes­sor at West­lake Uni­ver­sity as well. Ac­cord­ing to Mr Chen, his re­search team at the both in­sti­tutes helps power re­search and de­vel­op­ment for the project.

“China is em­pha­sis­ing the in­te­gra­tion of in­dus­tries, academia and R&D. We are prov­ing this idea is pos­si­ble by trans­form­ing high-end re­search to be com­mer­cialised,” Mr Chen states. “Although we are not a big com­pany, we do have sup­port from many sides, in­clud­ing the govern­ment. What we are do­ing is not only about reach­ing the deep­est part of the ocean, but also build­ing a new model for the sci­en­tific re­search and its com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion.”

Ad­di­tion­ally, the firm con­tin­ues to seek out more part­ners across all back­grounds in­clud­ing tech­nol­ogy, re­search or cap­i­tal.

Mr Chen ex­plains, “We want all of our part­ners to share the same goal as us. There are many chal­lenges in hav­ing so many col­lab­o­ra­tors. It is the same for all busi­ness or re­search co­op­er­a­tion. How­ever, these chal­lenges and new op­por­tu­ni­ties go hand in hand. Ul­ti­mately, we are all work­ing to­gether for a win-win sit­u­a­tion.”

In 2019, Ms Kristin Iglum, Con­sul Gen­eral of the Nor­we­gian Con­sulate Gen­eral Shang­hai, vis­ited Lin­gang and met with govern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Lo­cal of­fi­cials pro­moted Rain­bow­fish as ex­am­ple of what Chi­nese com­pa­nies were ac­com­plish­ing in the ma­rine in­dus­try and dis­cussed how Nor­we­gian busi­nesses could be­come more in­volved with do­mes­tic firms.

For Rain­bow­fish, in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion beyond cap­i­tal is vi­tal for its suc­cess. Since the com­pany does not pro­duce or man­u­fac­ture its ves­sels, it needs to part­ner with sup­pli­ers from around the globe. Not only to fur­ther busi­ness goals, but also build a last­ing un­der­stand­ing of the ocean.

“What we are do­ing brings at­ten­tion to the ocean. It raises pub­lic in­ter­ests when it comes to the ocean. Our com­pany has even be­come a cer­tifi­cated sci­ence cen­tre for the youth in Shang­hai and many stu­dents vis­ited us. We are happy to show them the cool side of ma­rine sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy. Our hope is to plant a blue seed in their mind to en­sure they think about the ocean for the rest of their life. Those kids and teach­ers who visit are quite fas­ci­nated by what they learn. It adds ex­cite­ment to the project and may even help us cre­ate a greater pos­i­tive im­pact,” Mr Chen con­cluded.

PHOTO: XIN­HUA NEWS AGENCY

PHOTO: RAIN­BOW­FISH

Above left: Rain­bow­fish de­vel­oped the RV Shenkuo and car­ried out a mis­sion in 2018 that sent un­manned lan­ders to the Mar­i­ana Trench. Above: Prof. We­icheng Cui, seen here aboard RV Zhangjian, founded Rain­bow­fish in 2014 af­ter work­ing on other deep sea ex­pe­di­tions

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