EngD student Mairi Dorward wins grant for renewable energy research

WCSIM award recipient Mairi Dorward pictured on the right, during dry testing of the convergent current measurement system, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland (Image credit: Andrea Starr for PNNL)
WCSIM award recipient Mairi Dorward pictured on the right, during dry testing of the convergent current measurement system, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland (Image credit: Andrea Starr for PNNL)
Postgraduate researcher Mairi Dorward has won a research grant from the Worshipful Company of Scientific Instrument Makers (WCSIM) towards her work in ocean renewable energy.

The particular topic of the award is her work in measuring complex marine currents for use in the tidal energy sector. The WCSIM research grants, which are worth £2,000 each, are given each year in recognition of projects that involve innovative scientific development, and enable recipients to become Scientific Instrument Maker (SIM) Scholars.

The WCSIM is a modern livery company, promoting the development of scientific instrumentation, and facilitating the exchange of ideas and experience between academic and industry researchers.

Mairi, who is an EngD student within the School’s EPSRC and NERC-funded Centre for Doctoral Training in Offshore Renewable Energy (IDCORE), won the grant for her work developing and testing a novel method to improve the measurement of currents in fast-flowing ocean environments.

The research aims to equip engineers and researchers who are developing tidal energy devices with a better understanding of the marine environments in which they operate, to enable improvements in efficiency and resilience. Mairi has played a leading role in a team developing the new sensing method, which builds on the traditional acoustic technology widely used to measure ocean currents.

The new sensor system consists of multiple instruments mounted on a frame similar in size to the wheelbase of a transit van. Each instrument produces a single acoustic beam and each instrument can be controlled individually, enabling positioning of all the beams to converge and acquire measurements at a point, several metres away from the frame. At this well-defined measurement point the small sample volume probed by the new sensor provides much improved accuracy in flow measurements compared to standard techniques.

The new system was field-tested in the USA, and results are being fed into the RealTide project, an EU Horizon 2020 funded research programme to improve understanding of the environmental stresses affecting tidal turbines.

Mairi explained, “The award resulted from a project run in collaboration between the University of Edinburgh and experts in world-class facilities at PNNL, a US Department of Energy national laboratory. I'm delighted to have received the award, representing a truly collaborative project realised by a great team effort.”

Professor Hugh McCann, who oversees the the University Award schemes of WCSIM, said “In a field of candidates from several leading UK universities, Mairi’s work was judged by the interview panel to be outstanding, further enhancing the world-class reputation of the School of Engineering.”

Dr Brian Sellar, who has supervised Mairi’s research in the School, added, "The prototype sensor field-testing that Mairi successfully led on this international collaboration is a key step in our long-term plans to design and demonstrate technologies that can better capture the dynamics of the challenging marine environment.”

Mairi previously worked with BP for 10 years, latterly in environmental management and engineering in major capital projects. She is currently nearing completion of her IDCORE EngD thesis with a portfolio incorporating operations and maintenance of wave energy devices and metocean data for the marine energy sector.

IDCORE is a doctoral training centre funded by EPSRC and NERC and run in partnership between the Universities of Edinburgh, Exeter, and Strathclyde, and the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), to train world-class, industrially focussed research engineers who will accelerate the deployment of offshore wind, wave and tidal-current technologies to meet the UK's ambitious offshore renewable energy targets.

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