27 Jul 2023
by Clarissa Wright

5 years of innovation at the Marine Business Technology Centre

The Marine Business Technology Centre (MBTC) in Devon is closing after five successful years of innovation...

The Marine Business Technology Centre (MBTC) in Devon is closing after five successful years of innovation.

Plymouth boasts a long maritime history and a fast-growing marine sector. In the last five years, the MBTC in Devonport has helped to position the city as a leading centre for marine innovation, while working in collaboration with research institutions, businesses, and the council.

As the centre closes its doors, here are five highlights from along the way.

A boost for Devon

Since opening in 2018, the MBTC has accelerated the development of many new products at the forefront of innovation in autonomy, clean propulsion and the marine environment, from autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) to marine renewable energy technologies. The centre had a significant impact on the marine economy, bringing numerous jobs to the South West and assisting nearly 400 businesses in the marine industry, whether through funding, advice or networking opportunities.

Major funding

In July 2022, the MBTC was granted another year of funding by the European Regional Development Fund, backed by the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. By November 2022, the MBTC helped secure £1.2m in funds to develop an underwater acoustic communications network. Led by the University of Plymouth, the Smart Sound Connect Subsurface project enables marine businesses and vessels to connect to the internet over 20 nautical miles offshore. The network includes 4G/5G capabilities and wave relay mesh networks. The state-of-the-art communications will support training for engineers and innovators.

Smart buoys and electric ferries

It was a pivotal moment last summer when Plymouth Marine Laboratory and Smart Sound Plymouth deployed a cutting-edge scientific data buoy in the English Channel. After getting access to the European Regional Development Fund through the MBTC, the team developed the buoy to gather environmental data, including pH and water temperature. The data can be sent to the laboratory for environmental analysis, and the Met Office for weather forecasts.

In 2020, eVoyager launched as the UK’s first sea-going electric ferry. MBTC enabled a collaboration between the University of Exeter, University of Plymouth, Plymouth Boat Trips and other businesses to design the powertrain and conduct trials, with funding from the £1.4m Clean Maritime Call.

Education and outreach

Sound View Media produced a plankton virtual reality (VR) experience thanks to expertise from the Marine Biological Association, facilitated by MBTC. Together, the groups developed an "immersive and interactive experience" with Plymouth Sound. This helped schools and educational programmes show children the importance of plankton in the marine ecosystem and provided an engaging route into marine science.

Enhancing environmental assessment

The MBTC worked with marine innovator HydroSurv to develop a new method for coastal marine surveys, providing them access to the Cetus USV as well as university resources and expertise. The surveying method was found to be more efficient and cost-effective than many traditional approaches.

As part of the River Exe Group SME, the River Exe features a café floating on a barge, accessed by water taxi. Through MBTC’s access to the wide knowledge base in Devon, the Centre for Future Clean Mobility research group provided support to the Exe group this year, to explore decarbonisation solutions and embrace electrification. The café recently won the MBTC Impact on Devon award.


Closing the chapter

"It has been a huge pleasure to lead the MBTC over the past five years," said director Rob Watson. "I am immensely proud of the success we have achieved during that time. Over 400 businesses supported, the establishment of Smart Sound Plymouth as a global centre of excellence for advanced marine testing and prototyping, developing the world's first ocean-based 5G testbed, and underpinning the successful Plymouth and South Devon Freeport bid have all been massive achievements that have further cemented Plymouth's position as a global marine innovation leader."

MBTC’s closure may seem a loss for the marine industry in the UK, but its impact will live on in the many innovations it helped flourish. The centre has accelerated change and sustainability across the marine sector, in Devon and beyond.