A file image of the Bernal building on the UL campus
UL’s initial contribution to HybridLabs will be composed of research in materials circularity at the Bernal Institute and will be embedded in a wider group of relevant projects
Wednesday, 12 July 2023

University of Limerick is to participate in a unique new large-scale Dutch Irish offshore renewables project, it has been announced.

UL, ESB, Shannon Foynes Port Company and Clare County Council are stakeholders in the Dutch Irish research project HybridLabs, to help accelerate the deployment of offshore renewable technologies for both electricity and hydrogen production.

It comes on foot of the declaration by An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that the Shannon Estuary can become the ‘green digital powerhouse for the country’.

An Taoiseach was speaking as he launched the Shannon Estuary Economic Taskforce report, which makes recommendations for the economic development potential of the Shannon Estuary region.

HybridLabs has been funded to the tune of €10m by the Netherlands Science Foundation NWO to address energy transition needs whilst also strengthening the offshore food and ecological transitions.

UL’s involvement in the research project also follows the recent signing of a memorandum of understanding with ESB to work closely together in support of Ireland’s energy transition.

HybridLabs positions the Dutch knowledge and innovation chain strategically on the Irish Atlantic Coast in co-development with key Irish partners and is in line with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s stated belief that the region can become one of the powerhouses for “Ireland’s future economic development, harnessing the enormous renewable energy that we have here and building new industries”.

A unique Dutch Irish infrastructure of hybrid experimental facilities, simulators, and offshore demonstration sites, UL’s initial contribution to HybridLabs will be composed of research in materials circularity at the Bernal Institute and will be embedded in a wider group of relevant projects.

The UL contribution also includes the development of educational programs in MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) format and facilitating visiting HybridLabs members with office and desk space, as well as lab access where required and possible.

The project will also link to the emerging Maritime Training Centre in Kilrush, County Clare, that will support safe Estuary and maritime operation by providing training courses and certification.

UL Vice President Research Professor Norelee Kennedy said: “The HybridLabs project seeks to maximize opportunities and leverage the respective strengths of all Dutch and Irish parties in this competitive, international initiative. By fostering collaborations with industry and international leaders such as the HybridLabs partners, UL is embracing the imperative of research for real-world applications, unlocking limitless possibilities for innovation, economic growth, and societal progress.”

Professor Luuk van der Wielen, Director of the Bernal Institute and a member of the Shannon Estuary Economic Taskforce, said: “HybridLabs is fully aligned with the Taskforce’s recommendations for international co-development to accelerate delivery of the Atlantic Wind Potential. The project has a strong focus on the development of Floating Off-shore Wind and its onshore industrial integration using the Shannon Estuary as a Living Lab and is supporting societal, environmental and community development across the Mid-West.”

Commenting on the announcement, Tina McManus, Generation and Trading Strategy Manager at ESB, said: “I am delighted to see ambitious steps like HybridLabs being taken so soon after the signing of ESB’s collaborative agreement with University of Limerick to support Ireland’s energy transition. HybridLabs, as a further and international expansion of our partnership, underlines the role that we believe the wider Mid-West region will play in delivering renewable energy projects for Ireland, and indeed Europe. This project aligns with the ambitions set out in the Shannon Estuary Economic Taskforce Report and ESB’s Net Zero by 2040 strategy.”

Barry O’Sullivan, chair of the Shannon Estuary Economic Taskforce, said: “We propose RD&I investments totalling over €2 billion, to enable those elements of the wind energy supply and use chain that are differentiating and would increase an increasing capture of economic value in the Irish economy. I believe HybridLabs is an eminent step for co-development with leading Dutch partners and provide a model for further ambitious steps on the Irish side.”

Professor Axelle Viré of Delft University of Technology, who is leading the project said: “The scale of the proposed infrastructure and innovations in HybridLabs is unique: it will connect a wide range of lab-scale facilities and offshore demonstration sites together through smart data-driven methods. This will accelerate the development and deployment of offshore renewables, whilst also strengthening offshore food and nature transitions.

“Both the infrastructure and innovations will be co-created across all relevant stakeholders. HybridLabs will contribute to the European objectives for offshore and floating renewable energy and support the ambitions of the Dutch North Sea Agreement. At the same time, the whole HybridLabs concept will address many fundamental research questions that are relevant beyond the field of offshore renewable energy.”

Professor Henri Werij, Dean Faculty of Aerospace Engineering TU Delft, who are leading the project, said: “With close to 40 consortium partners from academia, knowledge centres and industry, HybridLabs will form a unique eco-system geared towards accelerating the energy transition. The world needs more sustainable energy, and we need it soon. Co-creation in consortia such as HybridLabs is crucial to get us there.”