Focus on research: Dr Jamie Goggins, MaREI

Dr Jamie Goggins, MaREI
Dr Jamie Goggins, MaREI

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7 December 2016 | 0

Dr Jamie Goggins is a co-principal investigator and leader of the materials and structures team at Science Foundation Ireland’s MarREI centre for marine and renewable energy research, a chartered engineer and senior lecturer in civil engineering at NUI Galway. In this interview with TechCentral.ie he talks about his career path and the challenges presented by a changing energy market.

It seems to be the norm for academics to move to industry and back. What was your journey?
I have over 15 years’ experience in consultancy, construction, expert advisory work and research on many projects worldwide. I am a chartered engineer and have worked as a consultant on both national and international projects.

On finishing my PhD in earthquake engineering, I went to work in the UK with a multi-disciplinary consultancy designing buildings around the world. Before that I had worked with contractors on housing developments in Ireland and on large civil engineering projects in Australia, mainly for the big utilities companies. Subsequently, I worked for a small structural engineering consultancy company in Ireland, designing buildings, mainly in the West of Ireland.

I noticed the downturn in economy in 2008, in particular the slowdown in construction, and an opportunity to join as a faculty member in the College of Engineering & Informatics at NUI Galway arose.

Even though the business extremely busy, the project pipeline seemed to be getting narrower. So, I took the chance to move into academia, although I never saw myself as an academic.

I had lots of interests when working full time but the focus on the deliverables in industry narrowed my opportunity to explore them. After joining NUI Galway, I had the opportunity to explore theses, as well as diversify my areas of interest.

It was wasn’t just a desire, but essential if I was going to thrive in the world of academia, as it was difficult to get any funding for research in structural engineering. My research activities span a wide range of areas, including lifecycle assessment, energy efficient buildings, marine renewable energy, earthquake engineering, structural engineering, sustainable construction technologies, and systems modelling of the built environment.

Over the last eight years, as well has educating in excess of 1,600 students, I have been principal investigator on more than 30 research projects with a total value in excess of €50 million.

Getting that balance right between excellence in teaching and research is key. As an engineer I design, create, solve problems, innovate, and use maths and science to shape the world. To achieve this, I work in multi-disciplinary teams, which includes civil engineers, mechanical engineers, energy system engineers, architects, scientists and social scientists. The vast majority of the research projects I am involved in are in collaboration with industry.

What problems are we seeing with marine renewables that aren’t an issue with wind power?
Some added challenges for marine renewables are accessibility for deployment and maintenance, extreme loading, and finding ways to deal with harsh environmental conditions. We are developing new composites, surface treatment processes and coatings to improve the durability of the materials for use in the marine environment under significant loading.

Another major component for both offshore wind and wave energy is the lack of a fixed point of anchorage. In deep seas the moorings for floating platforms/structures will still allow significant movement, which will cause problems when tuning or controlling the operation frequency of the device for efficient power extraction. This issue is not seen on land or for nearshore devices as they can be fixed to the ground and establishing a similar mooring point offshore would be very expensive. Through tank testing at the Lir National Ocean Test Facility, scale testing in the Galway Bay test site and full scale prototype testing in open waters, as well as numerical simulations, researchers in MaREI are assessing ways to overcome some of these problems.

One of the greatest challenges for wave energy is the varying frequency of the waves. However, we are developing resource assessment maps for wave energy developers, so they can design their devices for specific sites with a better understanding of operational, high and extreme events. We are also developing tools that ensure developers can scale their devices correctly when considering different test sites, be it Galway Bay, the Atlantic Marine Energy Test Site, the West Wave site, or abroad in Scotland and other parts of Europe.

The performance and cost of marine renewable energy systems need to be improved to make them economically viable. MaREI and our industrial partners are working towards this goal.

The Marine Irish Digital Atlas (MIDA) is one of MaREI’s tentpole projects. How does it work and who uses it?
MIDA provides coastal and marine information and data for the Island of Ireland for a wide audience such as students, general public and professionals. MIDA gives an overview of topics related to the Irish coast, as well as an interactive atlas where you can choose ‘layers’ from various organisations to view and query. For example, professionals interested in spatial data you can search our database of available layers, view metadata, and download data.

Furthermore, the MIDA provides up-to-date data and metadata for other MaREI projects and promotes existing MaREI work and experience. In addition, MIDA has been a training ground in GIS (geographic information system) and metadata for at least 14 national and international graduates, who have gained skills through internships working on the project.

What proportion of Ireland’s energy needs do you think can be met with wind and wave?
In 2015, energy-related emissions accounted for approximately 60% of Ireland’s total greenhouse gas emissions. The contribution of renewables to gross final consumption was 9.1%.

The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) estimates that this avoided 3.9 million tonnes of CO2 emissions and €426 million of fossil fuel imports. However, we are in serious danger of missing our target of 16% renewables by 2020. Furthermore, Ireland’s energy import dependency increased to 88% in 2015 from 85% in 2014, with the cost of all energy imports to Ireland being approximately €4.6 billion.
At 6.6TWh, wind generation accounted for 23% of the electricity generated in 2015 and was the second largest source of electricity generation after natural gas.

Our Energy Policy and Modelling Research division in MaREI estimates that under a low carbon scenario, 15TWh of wind energy could be used in 2050 – more than double today’s amount of wind generated electricity.

An SEAI study quantified the accessible wave energy resource in Ireland to be 21TWh. To put this in context, Ireland’s final consumption of electricity in 2015 was 29TWh. For wave energy to play a role in our electricity mix by 2050, significant technology cost reductions need to be achieved. In MaREI, we are working with developers of both wave and tidal energy technologies to drive down the cost of this technology.

It must be kept in mind that electricity generation accounts for approximately one third of the share of energy use. Thermal uses and transport had approximately equal shares of all primary energy in Ireland in 2015. So, other renewable energy sources such as bioenergy will play a significant role in our energy mix.

MaREI’s work has a bit of crossover with space research. What are the areas of common interest?
There is crossover on a number of fronts. We collaborate with Eirecomposites Teo, a Galway company, in developing technology for composite blades used in wind and tidal turbines, as well as composites for space launcher and satellite applications as part of R&D projects with the European Space Agency. We design, model and test structures to be deployed in the deep blue sea, on rolling landscapes and in the vast interface between the Earth’s surface and outer space.

The work of the Earth Observation and GIS team exploits the opportunity space that exists between the maritime arena, and the Space technology sector, enabled by the European Space Agency, National and European funding schemes.

Expanding satellite fleets such as Europe’s Sentinel systems, and the vast quantities of data they collect, provide a huge challenge, and opportunity to Ireland’s maritime sector in terms of information for science and society.

The Earth Observation and Geographical Information Systems Applications team are focused on extracting information from satellite-derived and spatial data, delivering it to those that need it in a useful form.

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