New test infrastructure anchors Flemish maritime knowledge & expertise
With a wave pool and a towing tank, the new maritime research centre in Ostend stimulates the work of academic researchers and companies alike. The centre tests scale models of breakwaters, offshore wind turbines, artificial reefs and blue energy installations, but also of ships – and this for both sea and inland navigation.
Ostend is not only the gem among seaside resorts, it is also the centre of marine and maritime research in Flanders. The place has been buzzing with activity over the past few years. “Our national coastal waters are not only ideal for offshore wind farms but also for experimental energy technologies such as wave and tidal converters and innovative forms of aquaculture, such as mussel and seaweed farming,” says Patrik Peeters of the Flanders Hydraulics Research, which is part of the Flemish government’s Department of Mobility and Public Works. “Moreover, the promotion of the accessibility of the Flemish seaports and the navigability of our waterways offers an answer to the strong interdependence today between ecological and economic sector objectives. That, too, manifests itself in more activity.”
All these activities and challenges naturally require a solid scientific foundation. That is why the Flemish government decided a few years ago to build a brand new maritime research centre in the Ostend Science Park. It was inaugurated in May 2019. “The science park already enjoyed a strong partnership between the academic and private sectors, and now it does so even more,” says Stefan Geerts of Flanders Hydraulics Research. Here in Ostend, different stakeholders from very different disciplines come together, which creates a special vibe.”
No more going abroad
The centre has a 30 by 30 metre wave pool for scale model research. In it, researchers can test the influence of currents, waves and wind on all kinds of structures, from coastal protection elements and wind turbines (including floating ones) to artificial reefs – the latter possibly being used to farm seafood. “The test results from the scale model can then be extrapolated to a realistic scale or actual size, allowing the researchers to design their prototypes, says Peter Troch, professor of coastal hydraulic engineering at Ghent University. The university was the driving force behind the new test infrastructure together with KU Leuven and Flanders Hydraulics Research. “In Flanders we really need this basin. Until recently, our researchers had to go abroad, but there the infrastructure is rarely fully adapted to the wave and current characteristics of our North Sea (coast).”
Another advantage of having our own wave basin: the scale model expertise is firmly anchored in Flanders. Troch: “This also means that companies no longer have to go abroad.” Consequently, the research centre is a trump card for the offshore industry. Indeed, Flemish companies can learn the skills here in order to construct and then market wind parks.
In turn, the centre’s brand new towing tank should help maritime engineers study the interactions between ships and the channel – in the water but also near the bottom and edges – and how these affect specific ship maneuvers. “The infrastructure is a welcome addition to the existing towing tank in Antwerp, now that ever larger ships are being built,” says Guillaume Delefortrie of Flanders Hydraulics Research. ‘With this towing tank, we also want to further focus on questions raised by recent developments. For example, we consider what characteristics a waterway must have in order to be accessible to such mastodons.” The results of the tests in the towing tank are not only useful for shipping engineers, they are also fed into the manoeuvring simulators in Antwerp. “For example, we want to prevent large ships from entering the Scheldt, hoping for the best.”