Research Themes

Aura Centre for Doctoral Training

Fully-funded PhD scholarships
in offshore wind energy and the environment.

Develop a sustainable future, work with industry,
drive innovation.

The Aura CDT undertakes both blue-sky and applied research at the critical interface between engineering and environmental sciences, providing research development and innovation solutions for the offshore wind industry.

Read on, to explore the six broad themes have been developed in consultation with industry stakeholders.

You can also browse the range of cross-disciplinary Research Projects that are currently being undertaken by our Aura CDT researchers. Or review our Research Case Studies document, featuring a number of impactful research projects.

Theme 1: Physics and Engineering of the offshore environment

The wind energy sector faces unique challenges of developing new engineering solutions to continue growth, and reduce the levelised cost of electricity, in the hostile offshore environment. Understanding of the physical environment, from turbine to coastal scale, defines the limitations on windfarm lifecycle for the sector, from design & development, installation, operations and maintenance to decommissioning. Central to this is validation of new environmental physics and engineering dynamics through real-world observations. This theme will advance research to describe the physical environment and develop engineering solutions to minimise cost and risk. Research areas include but are not limited to:

  • Physical and numerical modelling of wind, waves and sediments
  • Natural capital and power generation
  • Fluid structure interaction for dynamic loading
  • Soft material dynamics for offshore geotechnics
  • Risk assessment of natural processes

Theme 2: Environmental impact, marine biology and aquaculture

The development of offshore windfarms can have positive and negative impacts on the marine ecosystem. Installation of new structures to the seafloor can act like reefs and attract settlement or refuges for marine organisms. They can also be used as a substrate for commercial bivalve aquaculture. However, windfarm developments emit noise and vibrations during construction (e.g. by pile driving, drilling), operation, and decommissioning that may interfere with flying and swimming organisms as well as those that inhabit the seafloor. The theme explores interaction of windfarms with marine organisms, highlighting ecological risks as well as commercial opportunities.   Research areas include but are not limited to:

  • Impact of offshore windfarms farms on seabirds and marine organisms
  • Impact of offshore windfarms farms on benthic organisms
  • Impact of offshore windfarms farms on water quality
  • Commercial fishing and aquaculture.

Theme 3: Next generation materials and manufacturing

By 2030, offshore wind is required to supply a third of all British electricity. Significant developments are needed in materials and manufacturing techniques to meet this target. As the scale of offshore wind deployment increases, innovative technologies and processes must balance sector requirements of operation in harsher environments with the need to reduce costs. This theme will develop new materials, corrosion-resistant coatings and manufacturing techniques that are relevant to  offshore wind turbines from foundations, monopiles to blades, to bring about positive change for the sector.   Research areas include but are not limited to:

  • Assistive assembly and manufacture
  • Bulk additive component production
  • Reconfigurable manufacturing
  • Self-healing surface coatings
  • Foundation to blade design and manufacture.

Theme 4: Operations, maintenance and human factors

Operations and Maintenance (O&M) account for a significant proportion of offshore windfarm costs. Minimising O&M spend is critical to reducing the levelised cost of electricity. Presenting extreme physical and psychological challenges for those working in the field, O&M is dependent on logistics of operation and the human factors of offshore technician health and safety. Improving the reliability of systems and monitoring in the offshore environment allows better planning of maintenance; automation further reduces costs and potential health and safety risks. This theme will develop integrated solutions to minimise and mitigate O&M cost and risk.   Research areas include but are not limited to:

  • Logistics of operations and maintenance requirements
  • Work performance analysis in offshore technicians
  • Tactical and operational decision support systems
  • Combination risk, productivity, safety and long-term health
  • Health and safety response and training.

Theme 5: Offshore wind energy integration – challenges and impacts

As offshore wind technologies increase, its connection and integration to the wider energy system becomes of critical importance. Combination of offshore wind energy, energy storage and smart grid technologies will reduce carbon emissions and minimising costs. Increased offshore wind has concomitant impacts, including employment and up-skilling in wind farm development, maintenance and decommissioning. This theme will seek to understand the how offshore wind will be integrated into energy networks, it will also consider new industries which could be developed in synergy with offshore wind farms.   Research areas include but are not limited to:

  • Offshore wind and smart grid development
  • Energy storage technologies and operations
  • Societal impact of offshore wind
  • Economics of offshore wind developments.

Theme 6: Big data, sensors and digitalisation for the offshore environment

The increasing digitalisation of the offshore wind sector is based on the need for reliable mechanical and environmental modelling, logistics of O&M and fault diagnosis and prognosis. Research in this area is concerned with the capture, processing and representation of data, using artificial intelligence to build transferable and insightful predictions. Development of novel sensors and networks are required around specific challenges in offshore wind, whilst disparate sources of data and traditional measurements include historical information, images and text. This theme will seek to advance digitalisation to address challenges and reduce cost from design, manufacture, installation, operation and decommissioning of offshore windfarms.   Research areas include but are not limited to:

  • Digital twins
  • Dynamic turbine control
  • Sensor development
  • Autonomous vehicles
  • Remote and in situ monitoring.

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