A Rotherham-based company has landed a multi-million euro contract to utilise its innovative drone technology to monitor pollution in Europe’s waters.
The Martek Drones division of Rotherham-based Martek Marine maritime technology group, has won a €10m framework contract with the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) to monitor the problem, estimated to be responsible for tens of thousands of deaths worldwide each year
The division will now send its two-metre long drones up to 50km offshore to measure the sulphur and CO2 levels emitted from the exhausts of commercial ships.
Paul Luen, chief executive and owner of the Martek Group, said: “The drone we are using is unique in the world.
“To carry out this work so far offshore it has to be able to fly for up to six hours and carry a payload of up to 10kg.
“It will also have to withstand all weathers, including gale-force winds and heavy rain. It’s effectively a mini-helicopter.”
Mr Luen said the drone is just the first of many so-called “disruptive drone technologies” that Martek Drones will release in the next few years.
“We have invested a lot of money in drone technology over the past three years and we are very ambitious.
“We literally believe we can ‘change the world’ using drone applications.
“We will announce a number of world firsts in the next three years.”
Martek Drones say the call to deploy these drones could be made from any EU nation at any time.
EMSA will then relay the request to Martek, which will send two drones and a crew to monitor the seas for a minimum of 60 days in each location.
The land-based team will manoeuvre the drone close to ship exhaust stacks and use a gas analyser to measure the SO2, NO2 and CO2 ratios in the surrounding atmosphere.
The drones are equipped with both visible light and infra-red (thermal imaging) cameras, as well as various other sensors.
The data they gather will be sent back to shipping authorities in real time so they can evaluate if ship owners are falling foul of EU legislation on sulphur levels in their fuel, which causes acid rain and damages health.
A 2008 report from the University of California suggested that sulphates from shipping could be responsible for 60,000 deaths a year.
Martek Marine has already landed contracts with fire services, police authorities, universities and owners of wind turbines.
Talks are ongoing with the Home Office about their deployment of drones.
“Drones are a disruptive technology with the capacity to change industries,” Mr Luen said.
“One example is inspecting wind turbines. Currently, it’s done by guys climbing up on ropes, but it’s time-consuming, costly and dangerous, especially when they’re offshore. Drones have the potential to disrupt the whole process.”
The Martek Marine group has grown rapidly from small beginnings.
Mr Luen, along with his fellow founders Mike Pringle and Steve Coulson, had just £6,000 of initial investment in 2000. Just 16 years later, the company has sold $100m worth of equipment and employs 60 staff serving 80 countries.
A new study by PwC, Clarity from Above, values the commercial drone market at more than $143bn and Martek Marine sees it as one of the major drivers of future growth.
Martek Marine has already submitted another bid for a similar Europe-wide maritime drone strategy which could be worth more than €60m. And, in 2017, it will launch a worldwide drone innovation competition aimed at both academics and amateur enthusiasts with new ideas.