Ørsted is plotting a "world first" attempt to grow corals on the seabed foundations of its wind turbines, in a bid to test the potential biodiversity benefits of scaling up the approach across its vast fleet of offshore wind developments worldwide.
Working alongside local partners, the Danish energy giant said it would test the concept in the tropical waters of Taiwan this summer, with a view to determining whether corals can be successfully grown on the foundations of offshore wind turbines.
Coral reefs harbor the highest biodiversity of any ecosystem globally, in addition to supporting the livelihoods and sustenance of over 500 million people worldwide.
However, the worsening impacts of climate change present a major threat to coral reefs around the world, with scientists warning that they are among the most at-risk ecosystems on Earth, with half having already been lost and 90 percent expected to disappear by 2050 at the current rate of coral loss.
Ørsted is hoping to stimulate coral growth at offshore wind farms through a project called ReCoral that aims to curb the risk of coral bleaching events around its wind turbines. The project forms part of the company's ambition to achieve a "net positive" impact on biodiversity across all the new energy projects it commissions from 2030 at the latest.
Ørsted group president Mads Nipper said that if the pilot project proves successful, the firm would look to scale up the innovation across its turbines worldwide in order to "create a significant positive impact on ocean biodiversity."
"To halt climate change and create a sustainable future for the planet, its ecosystems and its people, we must speed up the transition from fossil fuels to renewables," he said. "Governments are preparing a significant expansion of offshore wind energy, and I'm confident that if done right, the offshore wind build-out can support and enhance ocean biodiversity."
The proof-of-concept trial is set to begin next month at Ørsted's Greater Changhua offshore wind farms in Taiwan, where the firm and its partners aim to grow new corals beneath the waves on four separate turbine foundations, with the corals sited close to the surface to enhance access to sunlight.
Waters surrounding wind turbine foundations are more stable and in theory are therefore capable of limiting the extreme temperature spikes which cause mass bleaching events, according to Ørsted.
The non-invasive project relies on the collection of surplus coral egg bundles that wash up on shorelines and would not otherwise survive, the firm explained.
The company previously teamed its biologists and marine specialists up with private and academic coral expects in order to test the concept in 2020, which led to them successfully growing their first juvenile corals on underwater steel and concrete substrates at a quayside test facility last year.
Hern-Yi Hsieh, director of the Penghu Marine Biology Research Center in Taiwan, welcomed the opportunity to take part in the new trial. "Environmental protection and marine biodiversity will continue to be one of the key topics of the world in the coming decade," he said. "It's great to see that, apart from its effort to supply clean energy, Ørsted is also launching its coral project here in Taiwan to promote environmental friendliness."
If the proof-of-concept trial is successful, Ørsted will explore opportunities for scaling up the initiative, with the ultimate aim of using additional coral larvae generated at offshore wind farm locations to restore and enhance threatened near-shore reef systems.