A MULTIMILLION-pound project that will produce the largest volume of cross-border research in tidal energy to date could be put at risk by a hard Brexit.

The EU plans to spend almost €10 million (£8.9m) on researching renewable energy in the UK and Ireland, with a focus on ocean energy sites off the west coast of Scotland, the use of tidal power in Northern Ireland, and the potential for wave and tidal power generation in Donegal in the Republic of Ireland.

A virtual centre of competence at Queen’s University Belfast will also host cross-border studies into bio- and marine-based power, said the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB), which is awarding the cash.

A Scottish Government welcomed the investment, saying it was “further evidence of the benefits of our current links with Europe”.

However, they added: “Projects like this make obvious the threat that Brexit presents to Scotland’s economy, jobs and renewable ambitions. An extreme Brexit would be especially harmful given the impact on access to European research grants.

“Our clear position is that we want a way forward that allows Scotland to continue benefitting from research cooperation with our European partners, along with the advantages of being within the Single Market.

“We will continue to push for a seat at the negotiating table so that we do all we can to protect Scotland’s interests and to try to mitigate the damage that Brexit will cause.”

Gina McIntyre, SEUPB’s chief executive, said the investment would help tackle “a low level of industry-relevant research and innovation” in the renewable energy sector.

“The Bryden Centre project will help address this issue by creating a new centre of competence made up of dedicated PhD students creating high-quality research with strong commercial potential,” she said.

Working with a number of cross-border partners including the University of Highlands and Islands (UHI), Dumfries and Galloway Council, Ulster University Donegal County Council and others, the project will create the largest amount of cross-border research in this area to date.

It will recruit a total of 34 doctoral students and six post-doctoral research associates to produce relevant research with the potential to create strong commercial benefit.

The EU is contributing more than €9.3m (£8.3m), while match-funding for the project has been provided by Ireland’s Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Department and the Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland.

It will also focus on bio-energy, specifically heat, biogas and electricity that can be produced through the anaerobic digestion of agri-food waste – a biological process in which micro-organisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen to create biogas.

The findings will benefit many small- and medium-sized businesses struggling to become more innovative within the renewable energy sector.

Last month the Scottish Government approved plans for a 30-turbine tidal park off Portnahaven, on the south-west coast of Islay – one of the world’s first commercial-scale tidal energy projects.

West Islay Tidal Energy Park, led by Cork-based DP Marine Energy, is expected to create up to 32 full-time jobs, and its 30MW generating capacity will be enough to power about 18,000 homes.

A massive tidal energy project on the seabed off Northern Ireland’s north coast is planned for next year. DP Energy hopes to install a series of 100MW turbines off Fair Head, generating enough electricity to power the equivalent of 70,000 homes.

Dr Sam Gardner, acting director at conservation body WWF Scotland said: “With some of the most powerful tides in Europe, we know Scotland is well placed to lead in developing this promising technology, and with the right backing it could help to cut climate emissions and create green jobs across the country.

“In the future, governments across the UK will need to work together to ensure research and development funding continues to be available to support the low-carbon technologies required to prevent dangerous climate change.”