14 Feb 2024
by Matt Lamy

Award-winning student reveals youthful benefits of marine engineering

As maritime attention turns to the young with IMarEST’s Future Leaders Forum, we speak to Orla McEntee about the attraction of a life in marine engineering. 

“From a young age, I’ve always been interested in engines and things that move. You get Lego sets as a child and it is great fun to see things work after you’ve put them together. Then, when you grow up, it feels like you just get to work with bigger Lego sets!” Orla laughs.

Orla is a final year master’s student of Naval Architecture, Ocean & Marine Engineering (NAOME) at the University of Strathclyde. For somebody who has always been obsessed with all things mechanical – and oily – her choice of course has exceeded all expectations.

“I was fascinated with cars when I was younger. I love classic cars and I’ve always wanted to build a kit car one day. That led me to think about mechanical engineering, and then marine engineering,” Orla says. 

“When I looked at the degree courses on offer, I just felt the marine engineering option was more suited to me because I would get more opportunities to work with engines – bigger, chunkier engines – and we get to do that in more depth. So, I finished my bachelor’s degree last summer, I will finish my master’s in May, and hopefully I’ll graduate in June.” 

Perfect placement 

While graduation is one step towards securing a fulfilling marine engineering career, Strathclyde’s NAOME department is also well practised at helping its students find placements that support their studies and open the door to life in work. 

“The University of Strathclyde is the leading research institute in Europe and third in the world for research into NAOME, especially when it comes to low-carbon fuels. The staff here have a lot of industry contacts and work with a lot of companies to develop these types of engines, and there are further possibilities for students to progress with PhDs and industry PhDs,” Orla confirms. 

“Over the summer, I had the opportunity to go and work for Ferguson Marine in their mechanical department in Glasgow. They asked me to stay on, so I am now working part time as a mechanical engineer with Ferguson Marine while I complete my studies, and that is giving me some great experience in the industry.  

“For example, I recently had the opportunity to go aboard a ship and look at all the components, crawling about the engine room. I really got down on my hands and knees among the dirty parts! It was great fun and these experiences really help to augment the practical and theoretical aspects of my studies.  

“I’m only 22 but to have all these opportunities is fantastic. And the marine sector is developing all the time; there are so many opportunities coming in the future.” 

Targeting the 3% 

Sticking with the topic of developing, a presentation that Orla gave last year was awarded second prize in IMarEST’s Scottish Branch University of Strathclyde’s Student Awards. 

“The presentation was on my fourth-year thesis, which is a techno-economic-environmental analysis on ammonia-fuelled cargo ships. I choose this topic because of the current focus on environmental concerns, and the detrimental effect that fossil-fuelled engines are having on the planet,” Orla says.  

“If we don’t change how marine engines work, then we are going to feel the effects of that in the future. Currently, the maritime industry produces about 3% of all global CO2 emissions. While 3% might sound small compared to the 60% produced by the power industry, changing that 3% will make a big difference. 

“I focused on ammonia fuels because they create little to no emissions. At the moment, the technology for ammonia combustion engines is produced by MAN Energy Solutions in Germany. It hasn’t been released yet for commercial use – hopefully once it has been developed, it will be less expensive. But it is on its way, and it looks very good for the future.” 

Read more: The heavyweight battle for shipping’s future fuels 

Orla’s interest and success in this area is a key example of what young engineers can bring to the marine sector. It is also a perfect example of what the maritime industry can offer in return: the chance to be involved in practical developments that will make the world a better place. 

“Especially now, many of the younger generations coming through have a great understanding about the environmental impact of our actions and how this needs to change,” Orla explains.  

“They come to university, and they want to work with renewables. Everybody is very focused on this being the way forward. We know we want to go into these jobs and make a difference. We want to leave oil and gas behind and work with wind turbines, and more efficient ships, and bring new methods and technologies to the maritime sector.” 

Find out more about IMarEST’s Future Leaders Forum on April 24th 2024 

Main image: Orla McEntee; credit: Orla McEntee