Engineers working in the cleanroom at Prototech in Bergen. The company is making its facilities available to other businesses in the ocean industries, as a part of the Ocean Innovation Norwegian Catapult Centre. Photo © Prototech.

Welcome to the subsea sharing economy

In western Norway, innovative schemes are making it easier for small companies to enter the ocean industries.

The blue economy is growing, and it seems like new products are being launched nearly every day.

But what about smaller companies – those that don’t have access to advanced testing centres, or expensive bits of equipment such as 3-D printers and aquaculture facilities?

Luckily, a range of schemes have popped up to help these firms turn their ideas into a reality, and make a difference in the ocean industries.

Gisle Nondal leads one such initiative in Bergen, the Ocean Innovation Norwegian Catapult Centre. Nondal explains that the centre gives small‑ and medium‑sized companies access to a broad range of testing and prototyping equipment.

This includes everything from wave tanks to 3D printers, and Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS) for firms experimenting with land-based aquaculture.

A worker tends to aquaculture tanks at Marineholmen RASLab. The laboratory in Bergen helps companies to develop better technology and processes for fish farming. Photo © Mark Powell at RASLab AS.

As Nondal explains, “Our aim is for the scheme to work a bit like AirBnB for the ocean industries, where companies can make their equipment and facilities available on a short‑term basis.”

This idea is catching on, and a range of other schemes in Norway are also taking inspiration from the sharing economy.

One of these schemes is SubQuip, where the oil majors have agreed to rent costly subsea equipment from each other instead of buying new.

This isn’t just a money-saving solution; it’s also greener, as companies are cutting down on the carbon emissions that come with making new machinery.

Norway’s major energy companies have entered a new scheme to rent equipment from each other. This will help to cut down on both costs and carbon emissions. Photo © Heidi Widerø / Innovation Norway.

The journey from idea to market

Nondal explains that the Ocean Innovation Catapult is one of five Norwegian Catapult Centres across the country.

These centres don’t just provide access to equipment. Instead, Nondal and his colleagues play a vital role in helping companies to navigate the road from idea to market.

“We want to be a one-stop shop for businesses, guiding them through the whole journey so that they get where they want to go,” he explains.

“This stretches right from the early design stage, which can involve lego and pipe‑cleaners, through to large-scale prototypes and verifying that the technology works.”

Gisle Nondal, who leads the Ocean Innovation Catapult, explains that his centre can act as a “one-stop shop” for businesses who would like to develop new products.

In order to achieve this, the centre can call upon an impressive set of laboratories and test facilities in Greater Bergen. These are made available through partnerships with players such as the Marineholmen RASlab, the Institute of Marine Research, DNV GL, Prototech and Additech.

Nondal also mentions a new partnership with NCE Seafood’s AquaCloud platform, which provides data from 2,800 fish cages across 320 locations each day – equal to around 1.2 million data points each week.

All of this information can be used by companies to improve fish feeding, disease management and other areas of aquaculture.

The common thread that unites these different tools is that they aim to help companies to develop their ideas into finished products.

Additech is making its advanced 3D printers available for other Norwegian companies to use, through Bergen’s Ocean Innovation Catapult scheme.

Greater Bergen – the perfect blue ecosystem

Nondal notes that it helps that the scheme is located in Greater Bergen, which is home to strong ocean industries. These sectors are already used to working collaboratively.

“Our local member organization, GCE Ocean Technology, brings together players from energy, aquaculture and other blue sectors,” he says.

Many of these established companies have now come together to support the OINC initiative, and help other firms to get a headstart.

“I’m really impressed by how many businesses in our region have opened up their test facilities or competence for others to use,” he adds.

Thanks to his centre, and Norway’s other catapult centres, more companies will surely be able to enter the country’s blue economy in future.


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