“Steel Appeal” – a creative approach to the circular economy

Last year, we were proud to support the RSA’s Student Design Awards, focusing in on the “Steel Appeal” category which asked entrants how circular economy principles might be applied to increase and encourage the reuse of steel from decommissioned oil and gas platforms.

Finding sustainable, long-term solutions for these materials and the associated impacts regarding preparation, removal, recycling and disposal are a key driver for the industry and other stakeholders, especially as principles of Circular Economy have become increasingly relevant in recent years.

The Student Design Awards were an exciting opportunity to raise awareness of these issues within a stakeholder group of young, passionate and energised design professionals who might otherwise consider the oil and gas industry to have little to offer them. We caught up with the category winner and Masters in Design student, Joshua Dale, to find out exactly what it was that inspired him and his award-winning concept.

With an undergraduate degree is Product Design, Josh has been applying his enthusiasm for problem solving via design since his school days. Having more recently focused on innovation and sustainability through design, Josh gave us an insight into his creative methodology and in this case, the inspiration stemmed from an interest in the Orkney Islands. This led to his research on the Scottish economy and finally resulted in his award-winning concept to convert decommissioned oil rigs into large-scale, sustainable kelp farms (jackets which would, over time, become artificial reefs encouraging biodiversity to grow within and expand beyond these farms) and processing units (topsides).

In the UK, seaweed is still a relatively untapped resource that provides food and shelter to marine life and is also a viable, highly nutritious human food source. Important for future supply of food and feed (additives), pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, biomaterials and bioenergy, seaweed farming already represents a mature industry in other parts of the world, but is still very much in its infancy in the UK – an opportunity that Josh saw as significant to some of Scotland’s local, coastal economies.

Researching further into the blue revolution – and in particular the range of economic possibilities attached to a UK seaweed industry – Josh’s concept, entitled “Scottish Kelp”, was created not only to embody the principle of the reuse of oil and gas assets, but also to provide Scottish communities with a sustainable, low carbon business opportunity, whilst increasing our surrounding waters’ biodiversity.

The idea proposed that Government-supported Scottish Kelp projects could be positioned close to, and owned by, ex-fishing communities which may now be reliant on tourism and could suffer the vulnerabilities of that sector. Josh’s research included discussions with Decom North Sea, Zero Waste Scotland and the Scottish Association for Marine Science to find out more about the work they are undertaking and how the latter is developing Scottish know-how around seaweed farming.

As aquaculture develops its role within our economy, and new uses for kelp continue to be discovered, Josh’s hope for his design is that it will not only help address our industry’s reuse expectations, but also further increase UK research and development into seaweed and the positive, sustainable impact it can have across innumerable industries to the benefit of the global population.

Decommissioning isn’t about ending an industry, it’s about the responsible facilitation of new, sustainable sectors. Josh’s proposal embodies that ethos, and we congratulate him for his vision and enthusiasm.