Hawaii Patent of the Month – September 2023

In the vast expanse of the world’s oceans, anchoring structures and mooring systems have traditionally relied on heavy anchors and piles. These systems are essential for providing stability to marine structures, from renewable energy installations to offshore pipelines. However, they come with a hefty price tag, logistical challenges, and environmental concerns associated with installation. Makai Ocean Engineering, Inc. is working to address those concerns with their novel subsea anchorage installation system.

Traditional anchoring and mooring systems have long been the go-to solution for securing structures to the seafloor. These systems not only provide the ballast required to counter buoyancy but also offer lateral stability to withstand dynamic forces like waves and currents. Unfortunately, they also bring significant drawbacks:

  1. Cost and Size: The sheer size and weight of traditional anchors and moorings can drive up offshore development costs substantially. The expense of building and installing these heavy components often forms a significant portion of the project budget.
  2. Logistical Challenges: Transporting and installing these mammoth systems necessitates large support vessels and specialized equipment. Availability of such resources can be limited, leading to potential project delays and increased costs.
  3. Environmental Impact: Installing traditional anchors often involves dredging large areas on the seafloor, posing environmental hazards to marine ecosystems. The sediment disturbance and habitat disruption can have long-lasting consequences.

Makai has introduced a game-changing alternative to traditional anchoring and mooring systems: micropiles. These small, lightweight, yet incredibly strong structures offer a more cost-effective and environmentally friendly approach to foundational support. Here’s how they work:

Hollow Annulus: Micropiles are designed with a hollow annulus, which can be filled with grout. This configuration allows for efficient grout injection during installation.

Subsea Drilling: Installation of micropiles for subsea applications involves specialized drill rigs capable of operating underwater. These systems are deployed from surface vessels but require additional support equipment and diver assistance.

On-Site Grout Mixing: Makai’s innovation lies in on-site grout mixing. Unlike traditional methods where grout is mixed on the surface and then pumped to the seafloor, Makai’s system allows for dry grout to be transported to the seafloor without premature mixing.

Variable Volume Grout Storage Chamber: The heart of the system is the variable volume grout storage chamber. This chamber can transport dry grout and expand from a collapsed configuration on the seafloor. It includes a water injection port for mixing with dry grout.

Paddle Mixing: Inside the variable volume grout storage chamber, a paddle is employed to mix the dry grout and injected water into a grout mixture.

Grout Pumping: A subsea grout pump is utilized to pump the thoroughly mixed grout from the variable volume grout storage chamber into the micropiles at the seafloor.

Environmental Considerations: The system is designed to minimize environmental impact, as it eliminates the need for extensive dredging and reduces disturbance to marine ecosystems.

Makai’s method offers a streamlined, cost-effective, and environmentally conscious approach to subsea anchoring. It eliminates the logistical challenges associated with transporting pre-mixed grout, making it a compelling choice for marine construction projects. Moreover, by reducing the environmental footprint of installation, it aligns with the growing global focus on sustainable practices in the marine industry.

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