Careers in Chemical Engineering: David Young

Article by Yasmin Ali

Stressing the cables for floating offshore renewables

My name is Yasmin Ali and I’m a chemical engineer working in the energy sector. I was originally attracted to study chemical engineering because of the breadth of career opportunities it provides. To showcase this diversity, I will be talking to a range of fellow chemical engineers to find out what they do, how they got there, and why they do it.

For this instalment, I spoke to David Young, a Research Engineer at the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult.

David Young is a research engineer, specialising in offshore electrical infrastructure for the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult; a government-funded innovation and research centre for offshore renewable energy.

“My role is looking at accelerating deployment of offshore renewable energy technologies; the area I focus on in particular is the subsea cables. If it’s an offshore wind turbine, tidal or wave energy device, it will have cables to bring electricity back to shore,” David explained.

David studied chemical engineering at Queen’s University Belfast, and completed work placements in his areas of interest – energy and the environment. One of these was in Brazil, through the International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience (IAESTE). He worked in water treatment, specifically on activated sludge treatment of effluent. The next placement was a year-long stint with BP’s wells team in Aberdeen.

“I got to see a lot of different aspects of everything in the wells team. I worked with the drilling team, completions, and interventions teams. It was varied… I got a good overview of that whole sector and department,” David said.

Engineering doctorate

Looking to combine energy and the environment, David decided to do an engineering doctorate (EngD) with IDCORE – the Industrial Doctorate Centre in Offshore Renewable Energy – a partnership between the Universities of Edinburgh, Strathclyde and Exeter, and the Scottish Association for Marine Science. The EngD was a combination of commercial and academic research, giving David industrial experience at the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult as well as a PhD equivalent qualification.

David’s research focussed on dynamic cables for floating offshore wind turbines, to support the offshore wind sector’s move towards floating, as opposed to fixed-foundation wind turbines. This is to allow offshore wind farms to operate in deeper water, increasing the available sea area.

“The cables are traditionally static within the fixed foundation of the turbine. The foundation is seabed mounted within the water column. For the floating platforms, they don’t have that, so the cables are completely exposed to the water. You have all the action of the waves and the current; the cables are moving and being flexed, compressed and stressed,” David explained. 

He modelled a floating wind turbine at 300 m of water depth, and applied different wave, wind, and tidal conditions. This allowed him to analyse the movement of the turbine and its platform, and the therefore the stress on the cables. He could then combine these mechanical and electrical stresses into a fatigue analysis to predict when the cables will fail, potential solutions, and impacts on maintenance.

Expanding sector

After finishing his EngD, David was employed by the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult to continue this work. He is also working on using machine learning for predicting wind farm behaviour, and looking at the next generation of cables for floating wind and tidal turbines. David intends to stay in this sector for the foreseeable future.

“There are a lot of exciting things going on… Offshore wind became the first renewable source to get a sector deal, the UK government committed to having 30 GW of offshore wind installed by 2030.”

David went on to explain that within 10 years, a third of the UK’s electricity is expected to come from offshore wind, and that the UK Government has gone a step further.

“They have said that we will have 75 GW by 2050. To put that into perspective, we currently have 8.5 GW installed. It’s a huge jump.”

This is an opportunity for chemical engineers who want to get into that sector; there will be a need for all types of engineers as it expands to meet these targets. It is also an opportunity for those in oil and gas to apply their experiences of installing structures, cables and umbilicals for oil and gas platforms in deep waters.

Alongside his work on cables, David is interested in getting involved in hydrogen production from electricity generated by offshore wind.

“I see chemical engineering having a direct feed into this because we do hydrogen, we do ammonia production. It’s really just changing the energy source to be from offshore renewables,” he said.

Outside of work, David likes to hike, travel to new cities, and visit his family in Northern Ireland.

“I have a big family and they are all starting to have children now, it keeps getting bigger and bigger, and I have to be the favourite uncle!”

For more articles in this series, visit

Article by Yasmin Ali

Chemical engineer working in the energy sector

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