With the collapse of the oil industry up in Stavanger and to a lesser extent Bergen, Norway's economy is increasingly being built on diverse technological development and many major marine engineering projects.
And what immense projects they are. They include the oil exploration Troll A platform, a condeep offshore gas platform in the Troll gas field off the west coast of Norway, which stands higher than the Empire State Building; albsit almost entirely underwater. It remains the tallest and heaviest structure that has ever been moved to another position, and one of the largest and most complex engineering projects in history, operated by the Norwegian multinational oil and gas company, Statoil ASA, the world’s 26th largest company in terms of profit.
But there’s more in Norway’s sea than gas. SalMar, one of the world’s largest and notably most efficient producers of farmed salmon, is based in the Trondelag region surrounding Trondheim.
And again there is a first in the size of engineering. SalMar is the company behind Ocean Farm 1, the world’s first offshore fish farm. Too big to be built in Norway, the 110 metre-wide structure was contracted out to the China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC) in QingDao, China, before being place in the Trondelag region, designed to test both the biological and technological aspects of offshore fish farming; arguably the most sustainable source of meat for human consumption.
Protein from aqualculture makes a great deal of sense on a planet that is 80 per cent water, but currently it comprises just two per cent of our intake. Instead we deforest millions of square miles for breeding beef and other environmentally damaging resources.
It is with this in mind that th Norwegian Ministry of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs recently decided to award development licenses for aquaculture purposes. It hopes that in doing so, it will spur activity in the new technology concepts that can ensure sufficient growth while also ensuring environmental sustainability. It’s a fair bet that more will follow the example being set by Ocean Farm 1 full-scale pilot facility.
Marine sustainability is Norway is big business. One of the country’s wealthiest men, Kjell Inge Røkke, owner of Aker ASA, a Norwegian holding company engaged in offshore fishing, construction and engineering, has commissioned another significant development for marine research and development. The Research Expedition Vessel is a 182-metre superyacht that from 2020 will be used for environmental research and protection by scientists and marine specialists to study oceanographic changes, including finding an environmentally friendly way to incinerate floating plastics, toxic sludge and other such polluting material found gathering in the five oceanic gyres.
The gyres are immense. To provide some perspective, the grandly titled Pacific Trash Vortex is estimated by some observers to be around 700,000 square kilometres in size, or in marginally less incomprehensible visual terms, the size of Texas.
The vessels that are being created for use in these fields are also put to the test at Tyholt near Trondheim, which has the Ocean Space Center Norway – design by architect Snøhetta. This is also known as the Marine Technology Research Centre.
Plans are now in place for the creation of a completely new Marine Technology Research Centre closer to the city centre of Trondheim, with an ocean basin placed in the middle of the sea.
Powering all of this development is the esteemed Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). This institution plays a leading role in establishing a technology forum to position Norway as a leading nation on technology development, where it has competitive strengths in addressing global challenges.
The university, free to attend for all Norwegians, is home to 38.000 students, with 4.300 of its 6.700 total employees operating in education and research, and outreach positions,
It is supported in its endeavours by SINTEF, the largest independent research organisation in Scandinavia, operating on a mantra of 'Technology for a Better Society'. It has 2,100 employees from 70 countries and annual turnover of NOK 3.2bn (EUR 400m), earned from customers in more than 60 countries.
Marine technology development in Trondheim is big business in terms of the physical size of its projects, but the true scale can be found in the growth of its international partnerships.