LØRN case C0209 -

Ben Fitzgerald



Exponential Marine Engineering

In this episode of #LØRN Silvija talks to the Operations Director of Core Marine AS, Ben Fitzgerald about marine technology. CoreMarine was founded by a collective of subsea and marine engineers who intend to develop technologies and efficient solutions for the marine industry. The team's experience is from the oil and gas industry, and it is working towards a future in sustainable marine industries. In the podcast, Silvija and Ben discuss Norwegian seaweed, among other things, and why we should eat more of it. Would you like to have dinner under the sea?
LØRN case C0209 -

Ben Fitzgerald



Exponential Marine Engineering

In this episode of #LØRN Silvija talks to the Operations Director of Core Marine AS, Ben Fitzgerald about marine technology. CoreMarine was founded by a collective of subsea and marine engineers who intend to develop technologies and efficient solutions for the marine industry. The team's experience is from the oil and gas industry, and it is working towards a future in sustainable marine industries. In the podcast, Silvija and Ben discuss Norwegian seaweed, among other things, and why we should eat more of it. Would you like to have dinner under the sea?

30 min

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Velkommen til Lørn.Tech – en læringsdugnad om teknologi og samfunn med Silvija Seres og venner.

SS: Hello, and welcome to Lørn. My name is Silvija Seres, and our topic today is ocean tech. My guest is Ben Fitzgerald, working as the operations director at CoreMarine. Welcome.

BF: Thank you, Silvija.

SS: We'll talk about CoreMarine and your innovations. Before we do that, I'd like you to explain a little bit more about who you are. You've given me a few keywords, and I'm really fascinated. Sailor, engineer, Australian, naturally sarcastic and a tad pessimistic, until proven otherwise. Please explain.

BF: Yeah. No, I think, well, the pessimism comes with being an engineer, but I love to be proven otherwise. Sarcasm comes naturally from being Australian. But yeah, I have a, I definitely love with the ocean, from learning to sail with my father since I was ten-eleven. I now live on my boat here in Oslo, coupled with also living in him (?) So yeah, I guess that's where it starts first and foremost is the sailing, which is the marine, the marine saw it, and then that's where I went on to choose my engineering degree. So I went into ocean engineering.

SS: You did that in Norway or in Australia?

BF: I did it in Tasmania, in Australia, at the Marathon University down there.

SS: One of my best friends from Oxford is Nina from Hobart, and I miss her badly. So Norway likes to pride itself with being, you know, the premier sea nation of the world. What does an Australian think about that?

BF: Well, I think Norway does it extremely well. Absolutely. It's been fantastic to see how Norway has actually concentrated its efforts in technology and innovation on the ocean's base, and specifically in the marine tech. They have years, centuries of shipping, decades of oil and gas engineering and also decades of aqua culture, engineering and tech thrown in there. And they really seems to be doubling down on how they can transfer all that knowledge across into the marine technologies. It's fantastic to see. Australia have a lot to learn.

SS: So what brings you to Norway? How did you get here?

BF: I was on a world tour with my old company, it was a large oil and gas company, and they shipped me around from Australia to Singapore to Aberdeen in the UK, and then I finished off here in Oslo.

SS: Sunny Norway?

BF: Sunny Norway and the beaches. Yeah. So yeah, so then I was here in Oslo and the oil crisis hit, which ended up being a blessing in disguise. They wanted to send me back to Australia and yeah, I'd fallen head over heels for a lady in Norway, so I stayed. I quit and I stayed, and there was really only one option at that time and that was to start my own company.

SS: So, what does CoreMarine do?

BF: CoreMarine is based on oil and gas technology and oil and gas knowledge, but we aim for everything that isn't oil and gas. So we are transferring our knowledge and technology across into the wider marine sectors. So we focus on renewals, we focus on taking aqua culture out of the fjords and out of the rivers offshore, and we also focus on you know, future proofing ourselves as mechanical engineers by learning from other industries and sectors. We're very interested at the moment in how we can mashup deep tech with hardcore engineering. And this is something that really interests me as I'm sure it interests you.

SS: One of the reasons why I love these Lørn-podcasts is that I discover amazing people all the time, and I'm just sitting here and thinking you might just be the answer to Norway's next adventure into industrial leadership. Because we did oil and gas extremely well, and for some reason Norwegians believe that they got rich because they found oil. But you know, Nigeria found oil as well, and they did not get the, you know, become the richest country per capita in the world. So I think it was all about exploiting that oil with advanced technology and the know-how, that we were able to export later on. Exactly the same export of knowledge and technology can be done with all other marine resources, and that's what you're trying to fascilitate.

BF: Yeah, absolutely. And I'm in a position now where I can see the differences between Australia and Norway. Both Australia and Norway are extremely heavily resource-based. Australia gets all of its income from minerals, INR and Norway gets most of its GDP revenue from oil and gas. But it comes down to two main factors I think, it's the policy and how governments manage those resources of the people, and then how you exploit the knowledge and the technology that comes out of them. Because obviously they're very well funded. And it's the same in Australia except completely opposite, where they have focused on those resource industries. They haven't got the right policies in place to take away those profits from those, and put them back to the country. Which is disappointing, which then means that innovation isn't the key in the country. And they haven't doubled down on the tech and the knowledge that they have in Australia from those industries, which Norway has, why I'm here.

SS: Maybe exactly our lack of sunshine you know, and lack of shrimp on the barbie is the reason why we have to double down fast.

BF: Stay inside in front of the computer, hehe.

SS: Well, I've fallen in love with Norway as well. For slightly different reason though, because I think you fell in love with its you know, sea and nature resources. I fell in love with its ability to rig a life, work life balance for men and women.

BF: Yeah, that's true. I haven't quite found the work life balance yet, it's more work than life, but yeah. It's so fun.

SS: There you go. After this.

BF: I can take some advise.

SS: So you talk about partnerships as well. What do you do there?

BF: Yeah, so we, what we see is extremely in 2018 was seen as the year of sort of combining companies together, so we end up with these mega companies forming. We're only a small company, and there's lots of other small companies that are trying to do really fantastic things. We can't cover all their bases, all their knowledge areas that need to be covered, so the one way we can compete with these large companies, in fact be better than them, is by partnering up with other other agile small companies, and that's what we do. So we have a really broad network of fantastic partner companies that we, that we work together with, enabling us to execute larger projects.

SS: So you're a platform for innovation in a way?

BF: Yeah, I would like to think that what we would do is sort of find the partner companies that we can do larger projects with, and then facilitate doing all of these really fantastic innovations in the oceans base. And that's I think is extremely important in the marine technology sector especially, because it's such a growing industry. It's still I think, I called it the most improved player. It still hasn't reached its full potential yet, and for it to get there, it needs to be on the back of partnerships. I look at WAIF (?) technology and title technology, and they're all extremely «this technology is mine», they're very much onto their patterns.

SS: Silos.

BF: Exactly. You cannot borrow my technology and what you end up with is twenty-thirty years of doing waif tech, and they haven't anything that works. We look at the wind industry, they were very quick to work together, and decide on a standardised model, which is the three bladed approach, and fix the sea bed or fix at the ground, and it works. And now, wind power is cheaper than coal in some places, which is fantastic.

SS: It's fantastic, really. In order to get this working, you need to be very open both internally and externally. You talk about radical transparency, one of the principals I guess by Ray Dalio, you know, principals of life and his bridgewater. I read the book and I was fascinated by his life story. It's amazing. I don't agree with every principal, but I think this radical transparency he talks about is really important. Say more.

BF: Yeah, I agree. I don't agree with every principal. There's a good example of a journalist in the states that wanted to take this radical transparency in, and what he wanted to do was say exactly what was on his mind at any given point for a month I think. And he was sitting at dinner with his wife, and two friends came up and said «we'd really like to hang out with you a little bit more» and he just went «no, I don't like you». So, you know, there's radical transparency that is beneficial, there's–

SS: Can be distracting.

BF: Yeah, exactly. There's also radical transparency that is not beneficial. So Ray Dalia, he said out the principals in his Bridgewater consultants I think, one of the biggest private equity firms. What it basically means is that you have an idea as an individual, and it's critiqued by all of the people within your organization or your family, you know, it works in relationships as well. To be able to, it all comes down to the more heads are better than one sort of thing. And if everyone has the number one, the person that has the idea is willing to take the feedback. I wouldn't call it criticism, it's all about feedback, and that the people that are giving the feedback are willing and open to give that, then you just create an environment where ideas are exponentially better. Because then you know, your head is combined with my head and their head, and we're all working on a problem together, and moving forward. I think it's larger organisations should be jumping on it. It's worked for Ray, it's the one thing he's given to success for Bridgewater. It's what I bring in in CoreMarine, yeah, and it works extremely well.

SS: I think to get it to work, you have to be a really strong leader, and probably a tad sarcastic or humouristic, because I think, I love this quote about how anything worth doing is done by teams with three good characteristics. They have to agree on the purpose or the big goal, they have to have disagreement on the process and different perspectives, and then they have to like each other enough to you know, fight and then unite. And I think that last bit has to do with socialising really well at work.

BF: Yeah, I completely agree, and humour has to be all a part of it as well, and that's how we grow and build and lead these companies.

SS: So some of your concrete projects, you talk about an underwater restaurant, floating bridges, offshore aqua culture and seaweed as medicine. Say a little bit about each of them.

BF: Yeah, of course. So obviously the underwater restaurant is our flagship project, it's exactly where we wanted to be as a company in this base. Because what it does is that it combines oil and gas technology with civil works, so basically it's a big underwater concrete box that is installed onto the sea bed and then 80 people every night get to go down and watch the fish while they eat an 18 course seafood menu. It's not open yet, it's the largest in the world, it's just, it's absolutely fantastic. It's called Under. Yeah, I think it's booked out for like the next year, so yeah, maybe you have to book for 2020.

SS: Will do.

BF: But look, that was our first project which was really the combination of what we wanted to achieve and–

SS: How does one get there, by the way?

BF: You walk across a bridge and then down like, it's a periscope type thing, so you can walk down. It's not like scuba gear or anything. No, no, it's not quite there yet.

SS: I just saw National Geographic that they have made these bell sort of a thing, that you just pull under water, and then scuba divers can go and sleep or eat or whatever. But I guess it's a little bit less flashy, food serving.

BF: Yeah, it's a little bit more wet, so yeah, this one everyone is dry, so that's good.

SS: I can dress up.

BF: Yeah, exactly.

SS: The nicest dinner I had with my husband last year was in Montenegro and I fell out of the boat on the way to the restaurant, so had running makeup and... So if you can keep me wet, I will really appreciate that. Sorry. So what about floating bridges?

BF: Yeah, so this is again, the mashup of oil and gas technology that Norway has really just doing superbly well. It's a project by Statens Vegvesen, basically they want to decrease the travel time from Trondheim, sorry, from Stavanger or Kristiansand all the way up to Trondheim. They're going to decrease the travel time for trucks by about six to seven hours, the total time.

SS: How do these bridges float?

BF: So these bridges they have a floating pontoon, on which the bridge structure itself sits. So the pontoon itself is technology taken from oil and gas, and the anchoring system to the seabed is all again oil and gas, it's something that the Norwegian sector and engineering departments have been doing for thirty years.

SS: And these bridges are moveable or much cheaper to install or what's the big advantage?

BF: So the fjords that they cross are too deep for conventional bridges, they're too wide for conventional bridges as well. And because of the angle that you have to dig the tunnels at, they can't put tunnels underneath these fjords. So to go in the most direct as the crow flies fashion, you have to put these floating bridges in. There are some precedence in Norway and I think there's some in Asia somewhere, but this will be the largest ever done.

SS: Where will they be?

BF: They're going to start the first one is across Bjørnafjorden and then they're going to install another one across Sognefjorden, and then all the way up the west coast. So there's going to be seven crossings, all with floating bridges, and it's part of a larger project. It's world breaking, it's ground breaking for Norway. It's all Norwegian companies.

SS: It's beautiful.

BF: It's fantastic, huge amount of money, massive amount of research, yeah, it's really, really great.

SS: So offshore aqua culture, what does that mean? Isn't all aqua culture offshore, or this is deep sea stuff or?

BF: So a lot of the aqua culture, let's say most slash all of the aqua culture in the world these days is done inshore, so whether it's in the fjord, in the river or very close to shore, and they're done in a conventional circular pins, whether it's steel or polly popping (?) and the net going down. They have huge amounts of problems with the lack of circulation of water and the waste, food waste.

SS: And decreases disease and–

BF: Increases disease, that's more of a problem of having too much bio mass all in one area, so too many fish all together, that's going to increase the potential of diseases catching. But this is more moving aqua culture offshore where there's more ocean currents than what you end up with is the, all of the waste from the fish is just burst.

SS: So it's a natural cleaning system in a way?

BF: Natural cleaning system, so this has been a big push again by the Norwegian government. They saw the problems that they had in the fjords, with all of the waste and high levels of ammonia in the food and the fish.

SS: And this spills out in the near shore area as well?

BF: Yeah, exactly, yeah. So then what you end up with is the sort of dead zones in the fjords around these aqua culture areas. And it's really quite bad, and takes years and years for the fjords and the rivers to recover. So what they've done is they've taken those nets, they've taken them offshore. Again using oil and gas technology, anchoring systems, installation methods, and they're going to be installing them offshore coming up very soon.

SS: Beautiful. And say two words about seaweed.

BF: Please, please, please invest more in seaweed. It is nature's superfood. It's what 30 percent protein, it's 70 percent carbohydrate. Some of the carbohydrates, which are the polysaccharides, which is for coydn (?) has the potential for anti cancer, anti inflammatory, follow aqua bia marine, up north, and following a Tasmanian company called Marinova, they're doing incredible work with this. We looked at seaweed as a potential for CoreMarine at the very beginning. Unfortunately there's no money in it yet. But we hope–

SS: It's hard to sell the end product?

BF: Yeah, it's hard to sell it as a food, it is hard to change people's concept that seaweed is actually tasty, it's extremely tasty like you'd put sort of spinach into a pasta dish, it adds a lot of really nice salt. Norway is really lucky because they have a seaweed called Sugar Kelp, which is just really tasty, it's really delicate and actually has a little taste like sugar. So I highly recommend that. But also from the medicinal side, it has really good potential benefits, yet to be proven, but some very early cases, it's looking really good.

SS: I think we spoke with a lady from Aqua Bio Marine on Krill, and I think this is the other side of things that they do extremely well, and this might be Norway's next oil adventure in a way. The world needs more protein, and here we have some of the healthiest, most easily grown source of proteins.

BF: Yeah, for sure. I mean, theres's been some brilliant work done by Sintef up in Trondheim about growing seaweed around aquaculture facilities, and what that does is that takes out the micronutrients out of the water, which is–

SS: Cleaning as well?

BF: Yeah, cleaning from the fish farms, alright, so fish farms, they have a lot of ammonia, as I said before, but what this really does–

SS: Natural fertiliser.

BF: Yeah, it's natural fertiliser for the seaweed, it grows twice as fast, and it stores it as nitrogen.

SS: And it doesn't take all the bad stuff out of it?

BF: No, exactly, and then, here is the best part, is then you can take out the protein and feed it back to the fish. And then the circle continues. So I mean, all of this sort of research needs to be doubled down on for sure.

SS: We need to go slowly in for landing, and one of the things I asked you about is what would you recommend people to read on marine technology, and you go and recommend Leonardo DaVinci biography by Walter Isaacson, and I have to admit it's one of my favourites as well.

BF: Oh, you like it?

SS: I love it.

BF: Absolutely stunning book, it really sort of rung true with me about the cross industry learning. Just all about staying curious, I mean he is a brilliant man, half of the things he did I had no idea about. One of the best stories at the beginning was when he was writing to I think it was the Florence, like the command area or something and he was saying you know, I'm a very good designer, engineer, and I can build walls and do this, oh, and I also like to paint. I mean, and he ended up painting the Mona Lisa, so yeah, it's a fantastic book and really sort of rung true with me.

SS: I love it also because it reminded me about the point of innovation. It's not about doing something that you have a business model for, it's doing something you want to figure out.

BF: Yeah, the woodpecker tongue story. I wanna find out more about woodpecker tongues. Why?

SS: I think there is some sort of an explanation later on in the book, but I forgot it. But it had to do with his anatomy analysis and how it does something very special with its tongue. So we can understand the human tongue much better, and I think we under appreciate what he did in medicine and what he did in as you say, fortification and many other areas. And the way we think about leadership today is you know, unless you've made a lot of money on it, you haven't been successful. Well, he's actually changed at least five important disciplines of human knowledge by being curious.

BF: Yeah, absolutely, and it was all done in the 1400s. It's great and I think people need to be reminded about that, that level of curiosity.

SS: So what would be your gift of a quote to our listeners?

BF: Well, I think the quote I pulled out was golden oldie from Winston Churchill, and yeah, A man is about as big as the topics that make him angry. So I think that that's really important to sort of you know, put your energies into big subjects, big topics that can solve great problems. Don't sweat the small stuff. And that's important in today's social media life.

SS: And life in general.

BF: And life in general, yeah.

SS: What should people remember as the most important take away from our little conversation?

BF: Stay curious, learn from other industries. I think that's probably one of the big things for leadership, is to learn from industries that you are not in. One thing i learned from oil and gas was that everyone, not everyone, a lot of people, a lot of companies that work in oil and gas have their blinkers on. They see their industry and that is about the extend of it. And I think it's extremely important for us to look sideways, look left, look right, look at other marine sectors. And look towards at other industries as well, and how we can bond and can combine the learnings from each of them.

SS: Well Ben, I'd say you're a naturally optimistic guy, and naturally curious, and I love that. Thank you so much for inspiring us to look for the hidden pearls in our amazing oil and gas industry, and helping us transfer them to these new industries of tomorrow. Ben Fitzgerald from CoreMarine, thank you for coming and inspiring us about marine technology.

BF: Thank you very much.

SS: And thank you for listening.

Du har lyttet til en podkast fra Lørn Tech, en læringsdugnad om teknologi og samfunn. Følg oss i sosiale medier og på våre nettsider, lørn.tech.

What are you doing at work?

We’re building CoreMarine to service the whole ocean economy with smart engineering solutions. Specifically, we’re using large motion data-sets to come up with predicative ship response models and algorithms.

What are the most important concepts in marine technology?

Transfer of tech and of knowledge, and transfer between the marine sectors, but also transfer between industries.

Why is it exciting?

It is the same as the radical transparency concept by Ray Dalio and Bridgewater – where employees are able to be open and honest about their thoughts about the business. It creates a fast-moving and adaptive business where many people share thoughts and ideas together.

What do you think are the most interesting controversies?

Australia’s lack of support towards innovation and renewables, and its apparent re-investment into coal.

Your own favourite projects in marine technology?

The underwater restaurant we installed in summer 2018 in southern Norway.

Your other favourite examples of marine technology internationally and nationally?

The floating bridges project by Statens Vegvesen for the E39 in the west coast of Norway.

What do we do particularly well in Norway of this?

Everything. I have the benefit of seeing this from the perspective of an Australian. Both the Australian and the Norwegian economies are reliant on a single resource for the majority of their GDP. In Australia it’s iron ore or minerals and in Norway it’s oil. Both resources experienced significant declines in the last five years, but the policy response from both governments has been poles apart.

A favourite future quote?

A man is about as big as the things that make him angry.

Most important takeaway from our conversation?

Stay curious. Learn, share and follow other industries. For their knowledge, tech and processes.

Ben Fitzgerald
CASE ID: C0209
DATE : 190128
DURATION : 30 min
Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson
InnovationMarine technology Floating boats
"We’re building Core Marine to service the whole ocean economy with smart engineering solutions. Basically future - proofing ourselves as ‘mechanical’ engineers, a mash-ups of new tech and old engineering to benefit from both and bring our engineering into the new age."
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