A drone developer based in Rotherham has won a £8.5 million contract to monitor pollution in Europe’s seas.
Martek Drones, part of the Martek Marine technology group, will send its 2m-long drones to measure the sulphur and CO2 levels emitted from ships.
The contract with the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) has been developed in response to new limits on the sulphur content of marine fuels that came into force in January 2015, as well as rules that the sulphur oxide (SOx) content of marine fuels must be monitored and reported by member states of the EU.
Martek has developed a bespoke unmanned helicopter for this monitoring application. The remotely piloted aircraft can sample gases from a vessel’s emissions plume by using a payload of electro optical, infrared imaging, and gas emission systems. Automatic systems are used to track and identify ships.
The drone can be flown more than 50km from its ground station, beyond visual line of sight, with instant and continuous video being streamed back to the ground station and member states. An on-board gas analyser draws samples of air and monitors SOx, NOx and CO2 levels to determine possible breaches of EU law on the sulphur content of a ship’s fuel.
To operate effectively in the harsh maritime environment, the drone has a robust design that can withstand storm-force wind and heavy rain, snow and salt spray.
Martek Drones said that the drone has been tested to internationally recognised safety standards to be dust-proof, and to can withstand continuous immersion in water more than 1m deep for longer than 30 minutes. It will also have military-grade electromagnetic compatibility/radio-frequency interference protection and heat shielding for entering the emissions plume.
Development is also under way to incorporate satellite command and control and payload data streaming, so the drone can operate in what is known as beyond radio line of sight, more than 100km away from the base station.
Paul Luen, chief executive of Martek Group, said: “We’ve worked hard and invested big to pioneer the maritime application of drone technology in the last three years. This EMSA contract allows us to combine our original world first of ship emissions monitoring with our unique drone to deliver another world first.”
The EMSA contract will initially be for two years, but could be extended by a further two.