The Consortium, using technologies developed by double Olympic gold medalist yachtsman Iain Percy OBE

The future of zero-emissions maritime transport may lie in Northern Ireland

In a move bolstering the global maritime sector’s assertiveness of its environmental drives, a Belfast Maritime Consortium led by Artemis Technologies recently won a £33-million UK Government innovation grant to develop zero-emission ferries in the city that will revolutionize the future of maritime transport. With further investment from consortium partners, the total project investment will reach close to £60 million over the next four years. 

In turn, it will create an initial 125 research and development jobs, including more than 1,000 jobs in the region over the next 10 years. The 13-partner syndicate is a mix of established and young companies, academia, and local public bodies. It is also the only Northern Irish or maritime recipient of the UK Research and Innovation flagship Strength in Places Fund.

Artemis Technologies is an applied technology spin-off from the successful Artemis Racing America’s Cup team founded in 2017. It established the hydro-foiling and toolchain intellectual property and provides engineering services to high-performance and commercial clients. 

Led by double Olympic gold medalist yachtsman Iain Percy OBE, Artemis Technologies has established itself as the world’s leading high-performance maritime design and applied technologies company. Utilizing world-class skills in simulation, lightweight structure engineering, electronics, hydraulics, aerodynamics, and hydrodynamics, the Artemis Technologies team has been developing new green technologies with various maritime applications. Its vision is to lead in the shipping industry’s decarbonization and aim to become the market leader in high-speed zero-emission vessels and propulsion systems.

“When we launched Artemis Technologies, we decided to base ourselves in Belfast because of the incredible aerospace and composite engineering talent available. Belfast’s local expertise coupled with the city’s rich shipbuilding heritage, and our own America’s Cup yacht design experience, will ensure Belfast is the global leader in zero emissions maritime technology,” Percy said.

“For years, we’ve been designing low-energy, high-performance solutions for some of the fastest yachts on the planet. We will now utilize that knowledge, and along with our partners, apply it to build the world’s most environmentally friendly high-speed ferries, capable of carrying up to 350 passengers,” he added.

Percy also explained that their concept for an electric hydrofoil propulsion system is unique, and will enable vessels in the future to operate with up to 90% less energy and produce zero emissions during operation. “As cities across the world seek ways to reduce pollution and ease traffic congestion, the transformative vessels to be produced right here in Belfast will have a global role to play in delivering the connected maritime transport system of the future. This investment from the UKRI Strength in Places Fund is a major endorsement of what we are trying to achieve, which we strongly believe will see Northern Ireland at the center of the revolution in water transport,” he added.

Welcoming the announcement, First Minister Arlene Foster shared, “We are all proud of Belfast’s maritime and shipbuilding heritage. However, it is even more exciting to look towards a future that can see Northern Ireland once again leading the way with world-class manufacturing and cutting-edge technology. I pay tribute to all those involved in the project, which demonstrates so clearly the benefits of collaboration between business, academia, and government at all levels. This investment can support economic growth locally, but its impact could be felt globally through solutions to more sustainable transport.”

The Belfast consortium brings together a range of established and young firms, academia, and public bodies, including Belfast Harbour, Bombardier Belfast, Northern Ireland Advanced Composites Engineering (NIACE), Creative Composites, Energia, Catalyst, Invest Northern Ireland, Ulster University, Belfast Met, Queen’s University, Belfast, Ards, and North Down Borough Council, and Belfast City Council.

“As we continue to develop Belfast Harbour as a key economic hub and center for innovation, we are pleased to partner with Artemis Technologies in this cutting-edge maritime design project which keeps our city firmly on the shipbuilding map. Ambitious collaborative partnerships such as this are key enablers to help unlock groundbreaking technical innovations.  This project fully aligns to Belfast Harbour’s vision to become one of the world’s greenest and best regional ports. Belfast Harbour is already home to a diverse range of businesses, and this collaboration will only see that expand while also creating new pathways to employment and economic growth opportunities within Belfast and beyond,” said Joe O’Neill, Belfast Harbour chief executive.

Suzanne Wylie, Belfast City Council chief executive, shared, “This investment will help our economy recover more quickly, creating jobs and economic prosperity for the city—both key objectives of the Belfast Agenda. We are delighted to be working in partnership with such talented, forward-thinking colleagues to build the first zero-emission ferries here. Belfast has a long history of innovation, and it’s hugely exciting to know that once again, we’re on the cusp of a significant engineering breakthrough—one which will position us as pioneers in advanced manufacturing, resilience and transitioning to a low carbon economy.”

According to Michael J. Ryan, Aerostructures and Bombardier Aviation CBE chief operating officer, aside from being the largest manufacturer in Northern Ireland, Bombardier Belfast is also a center of excellence for the design, manufacture and aftermarket support of complex metallic and advanced composite aerostructures, and therefore, can provide a depth of experience, capability and capacity in support of Artemis Technologies.

“Bombardier Belfast is keen to expand into markets that exploit our capabilities/advanced technology and where there are synergies with novel technologies. The Artemis Technologies project, in our view, represents a credible technology path that could provide a technological ‘step-change’ to the maritime sector and passenger transportation,” Ryan added.

As for Business Secretary Alok Sharma, he believes the announcement will ensure some of the country’s most promising R&D projects get the investment it needs to take off and thrive.

“Working with the private sector and our world-class universities, we’re backing new and innovative ideas that will create jobs and boost skills in every part of the UK for years to come,” he said. 

According to UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, Professor Sir Mark Walport, UKRI funding through the Strength in Places Fund will bring researchers, industry, and local leaders together in outstanding collaborative programs that will catalyze regional excellence and economic growth across the Kingdom. 

Research England executive chair David Sweeney shared, “UKRI’s flagship Strength in Places Fund is distinctive in specifically targeting investment to foster the local research and innovation ecosystems that can support sustained growth. All of these projects have the potential to deliver research and innovation that will transform activity within their target industries, in a way that is deeply rooted in local strengths and well linked to wider local economic plans. And, with the second wave of Strength in Places funding already in the pipeline, we look forward to broadening the reach of that impact to further projects in other areas of the country in future.” (Story and photo courtesy of Artemis Technologies)

Catch a glimpse of Artemis Technologies and its zero-emission ferries here: