Reflections from NDC director Professor Richard Neilson as OE23 momentum builds

Professor Richard Neilson gives an update on how the NDC is supporting the energy sector.


Much has changed in the last few years in terms of the energy sector and while we are still called The National Decommissioning Centre (NDC) we are now involved in much more than that.

What makes us unique is our interdisciplinary work spanning engineering, biological sciences, chemistry, computing science, geosciences, law and economics. Our team has recently been strengthened by interactions with and support from leading researchers from universities around the world. Combine that with cutting-edge research and development, experts in simulation and modelling and state-of-the-art facilities including our marine simulator and we have a lot to offer the increasingly complex energy sector. While we have had a lot of support to this stage we are looking to collaborate more widely with industry and foster new partnerships for our project portfolio.

One of the major projects we have under way is the development of a Smart Energy Basin along with our partners the NZTC and the National Subsea Centre.  This will be a suite of tools to map out the infrastructure and assist the various users of the sea in the various challenges around their interactions. As the North Sea is one of the world’s most developed basins, it is very crowded and we aim to use the simulator and other tools we are developing to help stakeholders look at the ocean as a single user – ultimately starting the conversations that need to happen between the people involved.

Alongside this we have several technology developments in place including our work with Claxton on underwater laser cutting, an innovative technology which will bring cost efficiencies as well as environmental benefits to the decommissioning sector, and the construction of our barrier qualification chamber.

The barrier qualification chamber is expected to be delivered early next year and will be able to trial novel materials for plugging oil and gas wells. Cement is currently widely used and while it is relatively cheap the operations associated with it can be time consuming and costly. The 8m long 0.5m bore test chamber will replicate well conditions and will be able to test barriers including bismuth alloys and resins up to 700 bar pressure and to 200C. We are already in discussions around a partnership with an operator and a developer for the first tests.

What is also very exciting is that the expertise acquired here in Newburgh and used in the North Sea can be exported elsewhere in years to come. We already have strong links into Australia and Thailand. The skills developed here will lead to jobs created supporting the economic development of the area and a key objective of the Aberdeen City Region Deal.

The last two years has seen us progress work in the wind technology sector and we are now working with a large number of renewable energy organisations that we weren’t when we started out including Ørsted, OASIS and T-Omega as well as working with the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult on generic research to benefit the sector.

Our research across sectors is supported by a cohort of some 15 PhD students and a further 12 research delivery staff and secondments. It was a proud moment for all of us when our first PhD student graduated in June. Her research crossed Chemistry and Biology and focused on identifying compounds produced by marine invertebrates which could be used to prevent a build-up of marine life on subsea structures which cause damage as well as making them expensive to repair and decommission.

We have been fortunate to have had great support from the Scottish and UK Governments, the University of Aberdeen and the Net Zero Technology Centre. We have also benefitted from successful industry partnerships with the likes of Shell, Chevron and more recently the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and ORE Catapult.

Visit the NDC at Stand 1S40 in the Innovation and Digital Zone at Offshore Europe 5-8 September 2023 at the P&J Live, Aberdeen to find out more.

Notes for Editors

PublishedTuesday August 22nd, 2023