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See how Amalie (28) came up with an idea that could solve a huge climate problem for oceans

A small robot inches its way along the hull of a ship, its progress followed intently by an interested group on the quay. We’re at Dusavika in Stavanger, where entrepreneur company Norsjór is taking the opportunity to showcase its technology.

They are part of this year’s Equinor and Techstars energy accelerator – a mentor programme for start-ups all over the world devoted to developing solutions that reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. Fastened securely on this small robot is a laser with an important mission: destroying the thin layer of grassy organisms on the hull – known as fouling.

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Enormous consequences

Fouling might seem like a slightly irritating cosmetic issue on a leisure boat. However, the consequences for larger vessels are dramatic. The organisms actually create friction in the water, resulting in a braking effect.

“Just a mere half millimetre of fouling can increase fuel costs by up to 25 per cent, which in turn translates into 25 per cent higher greenhouse gas emissions. Fouling also diminishes the output of offshore wind turbines and wave power plants, for example,” Amalie Eilertsen explains. She is one of the founders of the Kristiansand start-up Norsjór.

Amalie Eilertsen. Norsjór
Amalie Eilertsen. Norsjór
Photo: Rune Sørensen

Fouling also has another serious consequence; one which has been the subject of considerable attention in recent years: the spread of invasive species such as Pacific oysters (Crassostrea gigas) and sea vomit.

“Norsjór’s advanced laser technology makes it possible to solve a significant maritime problem in a sustainable way, and the potential here is substantial. They are a good example of how innovative and creative solutions are important contributors in the energy transition. All players, large and small, must contribute and work in tandem to transform these ideas into real solutions,” says Milou Slaman, head of the Techstars programme for Equinor.

Technology and innovation are ingrained in Equinor’s DNA. In many ways, we were also a start-up back in 1972, starting off with one employee in a one-room flat in Stavanger.

Milou SlamanHead of the programme for Equinor

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Equinor & Techstars Energy Accelerator

  • 13-week mentoring programme for start-ups from around the world, devoted to developing solutions that reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.
  • This year, nine start-ups from various sectors around the world will take part in the programme, which will start off in Oslo: Norsjór, Enki, Enurgen, Liquidstar, NeedEnergy, Neomare, OE Systems, Solavio and WeMe.
  • A pool of more than 100 mentors from different sectors and companies, including Equinor, will make themselves available to the start-ups during this period.
Read more about Techstars and this year's participants

From school paper to entrepreneurial adventure

The Norsjór story started when Amalie was studying innovation and entrepreneurship at the University of Agder in 2020. She started out as a nurse, but made the leap to become an entrepreneur and thus contribute to positive change in the public health service. But things took a bit of a different turn.

While searching for inspiration for a paper, her adviser suggested that fouling on hulls might be an exciting topic.

“My immediate reaction was that it sounded absolutely boring. But I didn’t have a better alternative, so I started to dig into the topic,” says the 28-year-old.

It didn’t take long for the spark to ignite. She quickly realised that, not only was this a gigantic problem, there was also a huge gap in the market. She recruited fellow students Kennet Karlsen and Jarle Haugereid to the project and, like Amalie, they responded enthusiastically. Today, they are Norsjór colleagues.

“We saw that the existing solutions – primarily brushes and high pressure – can’t remove the fouling early enough without damaging the ship-bottom paint. Moreover, there’s no solution to deal with the organic waste when it’s removed; and removal is a requirement,” Amalie explains.

SELECTED FOR THE MENTORING PROGRAMME: Amalie Eilertsen (from left), Jarle Haugereid and Kennet Karlsen in Norsjór are part of this year’s Equinor and Techstars energy accelerator.
Photo: Rune Sørensen

“Today, we also see a lot of strong chemicals being applied, which the small boats aren’t allowed to use anymore – and which constitute a substantial environmental problem.

Lasering away disease – and fouling

Market surveys revealed great interest in a new and sustainable solution – and one harbour master even called them up and told them, in no uncertain terms – “You have to pursue this!”

When the company was established in 2021, the journey to identify the right technology got underway. Laser technology popped up as an alternative in a minor report. That was all it took for the former nurse to seize the moment.

“We already use UV rays to remove organisms and for sterilisation at hospitals, and we radiate cancer cells. This led me to the idea that laser beams might also be the way to go to remove fouling.”

This led to the next step: finding out what type of laser was suitable. But the laser community is quite tiny, and without anyone to discuss ideas with, the founders felt that they were merely floundering (their way forward). Following a failed test right before Christmas 2021 – which showed zero effect on the fouling – Amalie started to wonder if it might be time to give up on her entrepreneurial dream. However, after lengthy discussions and wading through new research articles, they found the solution they were looking for in the new year.

It all came down to the correct wavelength. And now the tests confirmed that it really did work.

Crucial to support new technology

Although they’ve made lots of progress, the entrepreneurial dream is nowhere near lucrative yet. Amalie has taken on extra shifts at the emergency care clinic to make ends meet, and her colleague Kennet has worked at a Kiwi grocery shop.

This year, however, things are really starting to take off. There’s massive interest from the outside world, and several sectors and companies see great opportunities in Norsjór’s solution. Among them are Equinor and other offshore players who eye a potential for using the solution e.g. on supply and standby vessels, wind farms, sensors and installations both above and below water. The entrepreneur company has therefore signalled a new round of investment opportunities and plans to hire more people throughout the year.

Participation in Techstars provides invaluable help along the way.

“We’ve had access to mentors spanning a broad range of knowledge, experience and capacity. This greatly increases our chance of success,” says Amalie.

MASSIVE INTEREST: Norsjór is now experiencing a veritable wave of interest from a number of sectors. Here Amalie Eilertsen and Kennet Karlsen showcase their solution.
Photo: Rune Sørensen

Being selected to take part in such a prestigious mentoring programme also brings motivation and drive, she points out.

“We stand together now, and we’re standing on the shoulders of a big brother that truly has the capacity to carry us forward.”

It’s extremely important for Equinor to support the development of tomorrow’s technology. The energy company’s ambition is to continue to deliver energy to society with lower emissions over time, and with net zero emissions by 2050.

“We are dependent on cooperation if we are to succeed in the energy transition, and we need new technology that can help us achieve both minor and major emission cuts. Through the accelerator programme, we can work with start-up companies to develop, test and implement new solutions that can speed up the transition,” says Hege Skryseth, EVP for technology, digitalisation and innovation in Equinor.

Nearly fifty companies have taken part in Equinor and Techstars Energy Accelerator over the last five years. Over the course of these programmes, Equinor has signed several letters of intent, has made early-phase investments and has conducted pilot projects. Equinor also participates in several other accelerator programmes, e.g. in Brazil, the UK, the US and Singapore.

There are several innovative 3D entrepreneurs among the start-ups with which Equinor has entered into cooperation.

This has helped promote cuts in time spent, costs, consumption and CO2 emissions.
Hege Skryseth, EVP for technology, digitalisation and innovation in Equinor.
Photo: Ole Jørgen Bratland

World-leading technology from Southern Norway

Now the Norsjór entrepreneurs are looking forward to launching a full-scale pilot solution on two ships this autumn. In 2024, the plan calls for them to take on the rest of the world – where a gigantic market awaits.

Their dream: to deliver laser technology to the whole wide world, from Southern Norway.

“The ambition is to build up an expertise cluster for laser technology, where we can both create local jobs and contribute valuable competence for the world. New, innovative solutions will allow us to use laser technology in more new areas. The opportunities are nearly boundless.”

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