Flow & Benthic Ecology 4D (FLOWBEC)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of Engineering


FLOWBEC aims at measuring FLOW, Water Column and Benthic ECology in 4 dimensions to assess the potential effects of Marine Renewable Energy Devices (MREDs) on the environment. It addresses clear knowledge gaps identified by NERC, DEFRA and UKERC in the effects of MREDs on flow conditions, habitats and ecological interactions. It will use a wealth of observation techniques above and under water, ranging from radar to sonar and in situ measurements, to be deployed over 2 years at 3 key sites around the UK. These measurements will feed into models of ecological interactions and habitat preferences, allowing predictions of the multiple effects of large MRED arrays.
Being fully cross-disciplinary, this project will engage different academic beneficiaries at each stage. Researchers in the field of instrument design (in the laboratory and at sea) will benefit from our experience in building the different systems and adapting them to long-term deployments on the seabed, in extremely challenging environments. This will be done by carefully planned Knowledge Exchange activities and open-access publication of our results, as well as exchange of personnel. The avenues opened for continuous imaging of complex and dynamic 3-D structures will be useful to researchers in other fields associated with ecological systems and marine structures, but also in medical 4-D imaging.

Planned Impact

See lead proposal
Description Using procedures created, within FLOWBEC, to identify the environmental impact within the project an assessment of the impact on benthic communities near the SeaGen turbine in the Strangford Narrows of Northern Ireland has been performed. Results from the fully three dimensional, turbulent and transient computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulations, performed on the National Supercomputer ARCHER, were used to characterise the highly turbulent flow around SeaGen. An analysis of the wake of the turbine near the sea-bed was used to establish the likely impact on benthic communities, results show that this impact is negligible due to the small localised area over which a Moderate/Good impact was identified. Results from the simulations have been compared with benthic survey results confirming the findings.

The CFD simulations also show that the wake of the support structure contributes greatly to the down stream turbulence, creating stronger mixing in the wake than would be present if the structure was not included in the simulation. The presence of the support causes an upstream effect which leads to a cyclic fluctuation in the instantaneous power output of the rotors of about 4%. This in turn causes a cyclic fluctuation in the wake at a the frequency as that associated with the blades passing in front of the cross beam (in this case the frequency is twice the rotational frequency as SeaGen is a two bladed turbine). An important consequence of this result is that CFD simulations have to account for the presence of the blades and support structure with sufficient accuracy to be of use in both assessing environmental impacts and determining turbine reliability.
Exploitation Route From the modelling point of view the work has established the required paradigm for modelling tidal turbines, whilst taken together with the analysis by the marine ecologists it shows that the impact resulting from the flow past tidal turbines can be considered negligible. These are import findings for regulators and consenting agencies.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Education,Energy,Environment

Description The findings have been made available to consenting bodies (including Marine Scotland) to inform their decision processes relating to marine energy. In one case, results from the computer simulations performed in FlowBEC led to a major piece of work as part of the of the EU FP7-Energy programme TIDES project "Tidal Demonstration for Energy Scheme" (FP7-322428), coordinated by DP-Energy which looked at the possibility of deploying a farm of Tidal turbines off Fair Head in Northern Ireland. The project was ultimately unsuccessful due to the unavailability of a grid connection. Significant design studies of the hydrodynamics of the fame and the impact on the marine ecosystem were conducted by Edinburgh University and the Scottish Association for Marine Science.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Education,Energy,Environment
Impact Types Economic

Description (RealTide) - Advanced monitoring, simulation and control of tidal devices in unsteady, highly turbulent realistic tide environments
Amount € 4,974,990 (EUR)
Funding ID 727689 
Organisation European Commission 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 01/2018 
End 12/2020
Description (TIDES) - Tidal Demonstration for Energy Scheme
Amount € 13,615,045 (EUR)
Funding ID 322428 
Organisation European Commission 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 03/2013 
End 04/2018
Description EPSRC and NERC Centre for Doctoral Training in Offshore Renewable Energy (IDCORE)
Amount £6,118,276 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/S023933/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2019 
End 03/2028
Description Extension of UKCMER Core Research, Industry and International Engagement
Amount £1,517,202 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/P008682/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2016 
End 11/2018
Description Industrial Doctoral Centre for Offshore Renewable Energy (IDCORE)
Amount £6,499,212 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/J500847/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2011 
End 03/2022
Title The ReDAPT Tidal Project Metocean Data Collection 
Description Improved understanding of the dynamics of tidal currents and oceanic waves and their complex interaction is a prerequisite for an economically viable tidal energy industry: complex velocity fields drive structural loads which affect device design, reliability and ultimately energy conversion rate. This Collection contains environmental data, primarily tidal flows, acquired during the 5 year £13M ETI ReDAPT Tidal Project. It has been supplemented by data measured as part of FlowBEC. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The database has been instrumental in developments for the EU H2020 funded RealTide and ResourceCode projects. A fully searchable version of the database is being developed and will form the basis of a library of met-ocean data from several locations. 
URL https://datashare.is.ed.ac.uk/handle/10283/2328
Title The Wind and Tidal Turbine Embedded Simulator (WATTES) 
Description WATTES is a software library that was first developed any Heriot-Watt University and which has been augmented as part of this project. The library allows models of horizontal axis wind and tidal turbines to be embedded in computational fluid dynamics solvers. The library makes use of the blade element momentum theory and aerodynamic data for the turbine blade sections to calculate both the forces acting on the fluid and the torque and thrust acting on both the main shaft and blades of the turbine. Combining this with a model of the drive train allows a fully dynamic simulation, with active blade pitch control, to be performed. The code is written in Fortran-95. 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2017 
Open Source License? Yes  
Impact WATTES allows turbine models to be embedded into any 3D Navier-Stokes flow solver by coupling the library to the user source term routines. 
URL https://github.com/wattes