International research collaborations at the port of Esbjerg will strengthen the green transition

The EU Commission’s ambitious strategy for offshore wind places heavy demands on collaborations locally, nationally and internationally. Also within research. “If we don’t engage in research at an international level, we’ll have no way of achieving the ambitious targets for the green transition,” says professor. Two PhD students have just been attached to a scheme run by Port Esbjerg.

The figure is fast becoming familiar: a total of 300 GW of offshore wind capacity needs to be installed in Europe by 2050. That is twelve times the current capacity, which is a tall order for both politicians and the industry, and it will take a great deal of collaboration – not least internationally.

Therefore, Port Esbjerg focuses on establishing research collaborations across national borders.

“Our customers and markets are international, and our research networks must be international too,” emphasises Jesper Bank, CCO at Port Esbjerg.

The port of Esbjerg is an interesting starting point

Over a number of years, Port Esbjerg has run ad-hoc schemes for PhD students and has recently entered into two new collaborations with PhD students whose research projects focus on the green transition. Both students emphasise that selecting Port Esbjerg as their collaboration partner was an obvious choice.

“The perspective is international, but Esbjerg is the starting point, as there is no better example to learn from,” says Ishita Sharma.

Sharma comes originally from India, has a Master’s Degree from Aalborg University and a few months ago, she started studying for her PhD at the Department of Business Development and Technology at Aarhus University in Herning. The focus of her research is to explore how to create green, sustainable multimodal hubs. In other words: how can different transport routes or combinations of transport routes by air, sea and land be made faster, cost less and cause less carbon emissions?

Esbjerg is particularly interesting, because it is a port with a regional airport, and the idea is that the experiences from Esbjerg may be transferable to other cities around the world with similar transport facilities, such as Aberdeen, Southampton and Stavanger.

Ishita Sharma is collaborating with Port Esbjerg in her PhD which focuses on how to create green, sustainable multimodal hubs. Photo: Private.

Scotland can learn from Denmark and Esbjerg

Laura Ginn, who is British and studies Human Geography at Newcastle University, also regards Denmark as an interesting starting point. She is writing a PhD focusing on the green transition processes in north-eastern Scotland and southern Denmark. Ginn will explore how economic processes contribute to shaping the transition.  

This is precisely the reason why, Ginn also chose Port Esbjerg as her collaboration partner. In her view, Denmark is particularly interesting, because the country has been working on the green transition since the energy crisis during the 1970s.

“Scotland has endured several oil crises without taking the same route. And Scotland can learn from that, as Denmark is so much further ahead. Port Esbjerg has been an important facilitator for the offshore wind market, and therefore it’s particularly interesting to explore how this expertise has been developed over the years,” explains Ginn.

PhD student Laura Ginn is interested in Port Esbjerg because it has been an important facilitator for the offshore wind market. 
 

The path to the green transition is paved with international collaborations

The two PhD students exemplify what is required if we are to reach 300 GW by 2050. This is the opinion of Gareth Powells, senior lecturer at Newcastle University.

“If we don’t engage in research at an international level, we’ll have no way of achieving the ambitious targets for the green transition,” he says.

He is one of Ginn’s supervisors, and in his view, far too much expertise is lost when research is confined by national borders. A global outlook is absolutely essential. The positive effect of international collaboration is particularly noticeable in connection with the green transition, as this process demands new ideas and ground-breaking research.

The expertise of the entire world may be put to good use, if we collaborate and share our knowledge across national borders. And it is necessary. Not least if we are to increase twelve-fold our offshore wind capacity within just a few decades. Cities, ports and nations have started and must continue learning from each other in order to find out what works and is effective.

“No one has a definitive plan to reach the target. Everybody is experimenting. This is particularly evident when you’re considering what’s happening locally, for example in Esbjerg. Lots of things are happening very fast, and it’s hugely important that we learn from each other. Universities may serve as facilitators in this context,” explains Powells.

He believes that others need to learn from the successes and failures that come out of establishing effective sustainable sources of energy in the North Sea. At the same time, he emphasises that it is impossible for one player to develop a solution that is suitable for everybody. Geography plays a crucial role, and a solution that works in the North Sea may not necessarily be appropriate in southern Europe.

“If we don’t engage in research at an international level, we’ll have no way of achieving the ambitious targets for the green transition,” says Gareth Powells, senior lecturer at Newcastle University.
 

The academics are not always the experts

One thing is that research is conducted internationally. It is quite another that this research is used outside the world of academia. This is a point emphasised by Peter Enevoldsen, Director of Centre for Energy Technologies at the Department of Business Development and Technology at Aarhus University in Herning. He is one of Sharma’s supervisors.

“We know from experience that if you’re to find solutions to real issues in business, you need to collaborate with the people who experience the issues and will be implementing the solutions. And our department doesn’t do its job properly, if we cannot produce research that can be applied to real-life challenges,” says Enevoldsen.

The port of Esbjerg serves as a real-time scenario in Sharma’s PhD project, and the issues and any possible solutions may be validated, because they actually exist. In this way, the research will be of real value to the industry and will not just end up as a theoretical section in a book.

The collaborations are essential particularly in relation to the green transition, and the universities are an indispensable resource, argues Enevoldsen.

“The green transition requires new ideas and research at a level where it’s perfectly possible to fail. Such failures don’t really affect universities, whereas they are potentially very costly to companies if they have to live through these failures, which are also important sources of leaning. Therefore, it’s at the interface of industry and academic research that innovation emerges,” he says.

The collaborations between universities andindustry are essential particularly in relation to the green transition, argues Peter Enevoldsen, director of CET, Department of Business Development and Technology at Aarhus University in Herning.
 

The partnership is imperative

Port Esbjerg agrees entirely with the professors that the partnership between industry and academia is imperative, not least in relation to the green transition.

“We’re in a desperate hurry, if we’re to achieve the ambitious targets of the green transition. And there’s a mutual need for solutions. At Port Esbjerg, we’re therefore of the opinion that it’s a good idea to help each other making the path shorter by engaging and collaborating with universities,” explains Bank.

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