Neptune Project: Researchers Working on Their First Commercial Product

A team of scientists, in the early stages of planning an offshore wind farm in the Mediterranean Sea, found that there was no product on the market that could suit their particular needs. When they started spreading the word of their intention to develop their own solution, they soon discovered the interest of the industry in using it. So, if both the need and the demand exist, why not work on your own commercial product, and then sell it!

A team of scientists, in the early stages of planning an offshore wind farm in the Mediterranean Sea, found that there was no product on the market that could suit their particular needs.

When they started spreading the word of their intention to develop their own solution, they soon discovered the interest of the industry in using it. So, if both the need and the demand exist why not work on your own commercial product, and then sell it!

We interviewed Frieder Schuon and Dr Daniel González, representatives of an enthusiastic team composed of 15 people from universities, research centres, a commercial company and an energy utility of the German and Iberian Co-location centres of KIC InnoEnergy. They are working on a product called ‘Neptune’, a combination of hardware and software which, they say, will contribute to a breakthrough in energy generation – expanding offshore wind farming out from the North and the Baltic Sea, initially into the Mediterranean Sea, but, in the future, into many other sea zones of the world.

Neptune is an Innovation Project fostered by KIC InnoEnergy developing two commercial products: ‘EOLOS’, a Lidar buoy, and NEPTool, a highly accurate software program for forecasting wind, waves and currents.

What is Neptune?

(Frieder Schuon) Neptune is a project focused on creating two different products: the Lidar buoy ‘EOLOS’, a wind measuring system based on laser technology, and ‘NEPTool’, high-accuracy forecasting software for measuring wind, sea waves and sea currents. ‘EOLOS’ replaces metrological masts in situations where the installation costs are too high, in deep waters for example.

The Lidar System of ‘EOLOS’ also allows performing measurements at heights of more than 200 m over the sea level, which is also a competitive advantage compared to masts. ‘NEPTool’ can simulate wind, waves and currents in a single tool, a substantial improvement on current commercial systems. It may sound like an unexciting combination! But taken together, these two products will dramatically reduce the financial risk taken when developing wind farms, both in the Mediterranean Sea and in many other seas around the globe.

Is it not currently possible to deploy a wind farm in the Mediterranean?

(FS) All current technology, based on structures that are fixed to the bottom of the sea, is only applicable in maritime areas similar to the Baltic or North Seas. In these areas it is possible to deploy farms both very close to the coast and quite far offshore because the sea is generally no deeper than 40 metres. The market does not offer solutions for the Mediterranean Sea, where tourism prevents the installation of wind farms in areas with depths of less than 40 metres.

(Dr Daniel Gonzalez) Let’s take the Greek islands for example: The wind is highly influenced by the islands themselves and also by the difference in daily temperatures, which simply doesn’t occur in an open sea. You don’t need to consider these effects when planning for wind farms in the Baltic or North Sea.

Four researchers standing in front of strange yellow devices

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Why did you decide to develop Neptune as a product?

(FS) The partners at Neptune are also involved in the creation of a test wind farm for floating wind turbines; it is open to any company wanting to test floating wind turbines. Right now when a company wants to carry out these tests, it needs to apply for the necessary permits as well as deploying the supporting infrastructure. Our plan is to offer companies a turnkey solution so that they only need to worry about their real interest: the turbine. Permits and infrastructure are provided by the test field. We knew we had to develop the measurement and prediction systems for the wind farm ourselves (wind, sea waves, the interaction between  the waves and the wind…) as all current commercial systems are focused on the requirements of the North and Baltic Seas. However, when we shared our intentions with the energy community, we encountered such a degree of interest in this particular system that we thought we could make it available commercially.

At what stage of development is the product currently in?

(FS) The buoy and the software can be sold as separate products or bundled together. The LIDAR buoy will be ready by the end of 2013 and will be tested during 2014 in an exhaustive prototype testing and measurement campaign.

In the next few months we will have already deployed the first buoy to sea in order to test our design. It has been developed using the results of various onshore tests that used a motion simulator replicating the likely motion of the buoy at sea.

What is the role of KIC InnoEnergy in Neptune?

(FS) As well as seed funding we want KIC InnoEnergy to help us deliver it to the market. Researchers know how to create prototypes but not how to transform them into marketable “mass manufactured products”. There is also the need for market knowledge: who are the customers we need to first target and how do we need to modify the design to adapt it to their different needs. We also would like to leverage KIC InnoEnergy’s European network to find our first “launch customer”.

What would you tell scientists who are interested in developing products from their research?

(FS) From our experience they will probably need to revise their way of thinking and approach to projects. Just like in “normal” research, the aim is excellence, so time is needed to achieve it. However, when developing a product the aim is to satisfy the requirements of the market at a specific point in time and not only excellence. This means they will need to look for the best possible solution which can be operative by a certain date.

(DG)There is tight competition to bring products like Neptune onto the market, we estimate that around six other groups are also working on similar products, so it does not make any sense to have an excellent product two years after all our competitors have started to sell theirs!

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