A member of the Provincial ocean technology sector was honoured in October as the leading young researcher in Canada for applying his highly innovative research to real-world situations. Peter Gifford was the winner of Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council’s (NSERC’s) 2012 Innovation Challenge Award. Gifford, President and CEO of ExtremeOcean Innovation,  won for his inspired invention called the TranSPAR Craft.

For the Ottawa-native, and graduate of Memorial University’s engineering program (who even as a small boy enjoyed tinkering with gadgets to make them work better) winning the prestigious award, and the $10,000 cash prize, was exciting and humbling.

“It’s huge,” he said. “It’s a terrific honour. It made me stop and think, you know, I am doing really creative stuff and it has had a pretty huge impact in terms of national and international recognition, and it could really change the way people service offshore wind farms.

“Then I met the other recipients and they’re truly doing some incredible research and it was really cool to be recognized as a leader within that group,” he added.

Mr. Gifford’s TranSPAR Craft is designed to improve safety at sea for operators and technicians who have to be transported to offshore wind turbines through often harsh seas up to three metres high. The craft has a minimized waterplane area, maximized air gap and large vertical damping to reduce the vessel’s motion characteristics, particularly in heave, pitch and roll – similar to a submarine.

“Presently, technicians are transported to and from wind turbines that are about 40 kilometres offshore in mid-size catamarans, but the turbines they’re servicing are very close to shore, approximately 40 kilometres from the coastline and in relatively protected waters. In the future, energy operators will position wind turbines much farther offshore, and the TranSPAR Craft is designed to service wind turbines that are up to 300 kilometres offshore,” he explained.

Mr. Gifford came to Memorial University back in 2003 to pursue a degree in engineering with a focus in naval architecture. After completing his undergraduate degree, he went on to do his master’s and that’s when the idea for the TranSPAR Craft came to be.

“Back in 2010, I was working on my master’s degree and my supervisors, Drs. Brian Veitch and Bruce Colbourne, and I had this idea for a vessel that would be safer for transporting people to and from wind farms. Around the same time, this competition came up out of the United Kingdom, the Carbon Trust Offshore Wind Accelerator (OWA) Access Competition, and we entered the concept of the TranSPAR Craft and we were selected as one of 13 winners from over 450 submissions from all over the world. The U.K. has an initiative to generate 20 per cent of their power from renewable sources by 2020, and the primary way they plan to do that is by using offshore wind. Winning that competition validated our thinking that this was a very good idea and would really work for offshore wind farms,” he said.

After winning the competition, Mr. Gifford was commissioned by the U.K.’s Carbon Trust to develop the idea of the TranSPAR Craft, and that’s when he and Dr. Veitch, who is a professor of ocean and naval architectural engineering at Memorial, co-created ExtremeOcean Innovation Inc.

The company’s primary business focus is the development of new technology and products for the marine industry. Its long-term goal is to become a leader in the marine product development market segment and continue to develop products that provide clients with innovative solutions to present-day and future problems.

Since its inception, ExtremeOcean Innovation has been working hard to develop the TranSPAR Craft.

“For phase one of the project, we took the concept that we submitted to the Carbon Trust, built a model and a series of experiments. The model testing was the core of my master’s thesis. Completing phase one required us to complete a design revision based on phase one experimental results. Phase two involved further evaluation of the design. For that we used Memorial’s visualization lab,” explained Mr. Gifford. “Additionally, phase two examined the regulations associated with flag state and class approval. This is a pretty novel vessel so we wanted to make sure that we could get flag state and class approvals.”

With phases one and two complete, ExtremeOcean Innovation is working on the third and final stage, which involves a final design, final tests, continuing interaction with regulatory bodies and a main deliverable, which will be a fabrication package for a prototype.

“By the end of phase three, which will be June 2013, we’re going to be able to look at a builder and say, ‘Here you go, this is a fabrication package for something you can actually build,’” he said with pride.

The Innovation Challenge Award honours graduate students in the natural sciences or engineering who have demonstrated an entrepreneurial spirit by identifying ways in which their research thesis results can be developed into products and processes to benefit Canadians. Since 2004, these awards have recognized and rewarded Canada’s brightest minds.