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Intervention Area: Blue Economy Sectors

The main aim of this Intervention Area is to support the development of Blue Economy sectors and the optimal use of resources in European oceans and seas in terms of space and material flows while ensuring the conditions for sustainability and reducing environmental pressures. 



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Background and rationale 

The ocean industries face several common challenges which can be tackled more efficiently by stimulating cross-sectorial technological cooperation and ensure the transitions needed. The key drivers of technological development are sustainability, safety in operation, green and cost-efficient solutions. 

Within the broader policy framework of the Partnership, the aim of the Intervention Area is to bolster long-term sustainable purpose-driven technological innovations. The Intervention Area is not limited to any sector or activity but covers the entire blue economy, focusing on the prerequisites for a green and digital transition of these sectors and on the conditions for co-existence and multi-use of activities and infrastructures at sea. Through this Intervention Area the Partnership will support marine and maritime contributions to curbing greenhouse gas emissions towards net zero and solutions for climate related mitigation and adaptation (e.g., Ocean-Based Carbon Dioxide Removal) that strengthen societal and economic resilience against climate-change impacts. The Intervention Area focuses on actions that will bring us closer to sustainability, whether in relation to materials (cf., EU Waste Framework Directive, Critical Raw Materials initiative) and/or helping to minimise conflicts deriving from the demands for space at sea or at the coast. 

The activities within the Blue Economy sectors represent highly complex multi-actor social-ecological systems. The transition of these sectors will therefore include broad industrial stakeholder involvement and a diversified funding strategy. Common challenges within all highlighted target areas include regulatory and legal constraints and opportunities, social acceptance of the developments for existing and emerging sectors, socio-economic considerations for a just transition, and broad and inclusive approaches based on principles of social innovation (attitudes and perceptions; learning, networking, and collaboration; and scale, scope, and resonance). Other common challenges are related to corporate social responsibility and social acceptance and license to operate, and the need for new or improved tools and regimes to manage complex safety, security and risk conditions arising from increased co-existence and multi-use structures, including considering biodiversity and cross sectoral issues.  

Key thematic areas 

This Intervention Area contains two strongly connected sub-areas. There are equally strong linkages with the intervention areas on digital twin solutions, and on marine spatial planning. The focus here is on the material and spatial intervention aspects. 

1. Transitioning the Blue Economy 

Actions under this Intervention Area should emphasise technology and process development, solution orientation, and integrated approaches to develop the sustainable Blue Economy in the context of climate change and natural hazard challenges. Projects and their clusters should plan a clear path (e.g., value chain perspective) from new knowledge and innovative services and/or products, to a possible service offer to end-users and how to address demands by end-users. 

There are several critical needs that require specific attention and investment to advance nature-based solutions (NBS) for ocean-based carbon dioxide removal (CDR) in their biotic (e.g., seaweed cultivation, artificial upwelling) or abiotic (ocean alkalinity enhancement) shape. Activities should address the following aspects: 

  • Tools, techniques, and processes, such as ocean sensors to track NBS impacts, methods for cultivating and sinking seaweed and risk assessments. 

  • Developing sufficient understanding for scientists and policymakers to assess overall environmental, social and economic impacts (including multi-use) on the ocean and society. 

  • Creation of markets and business models: identification of opportunities for profit within appropriate bounds of social license. 


The high material intensity of maritime activities, taking account of rapid changes in energy systems, requires full consideration of transition to circularity for existing and upcoming sea-based activities. As an example, the rapid development and expansion of offshore wind requires intensified R&I to better understand the environmental impacts (example: marine habitats and ecosystems, migration routes for birds) and possible technical solutions to alleviate negative impacts). Activities should address the following aspects: 

  • Decommissioning options in existing and upcoming segments of the energy sector at meso (type) and macro (sector segment) level. 

  • Business models for possible investment mechanisms to facilitate the re-use of installations addressed from a legal, environmental, and economical perspective. 

  • Innovation for reducing environmental externalities of new installations and of options for future decommissioning at micro (installation) and meso (type) level, and reuse of materials. 

  • ‘Materials and Nature-Based Solutions’: compatibilities and incompatibilities of material uses in view of enhancing natural functions and/or enabling reuse and recycling. 


2. Improve co-existence and multi-use infrastructures 

In view of the increasing demand for space, activities and functions at sea, multi-use spatial concepts, including multi-use infrastructures, brings a potential for synergistic benefits for associated sectors. At the same time, the risk of conflicts and negative environmental effects needs to be minimised. Any multi-use of installations or space increases the complexity compared to a ‘single-use’ situation and requires cost-benefit analysis to understand and valorise its economic and social value chain (e.g., research and innovation, new job profiles, diversification of the tourism sector) and make informed decisions as to its benefit for society and the environment. As an example, industry actors can support multi-use by proposing possible investment mechanisms to facilitate the re-use of installations from a legal, environmental, and economical perspective.  

Crowding of space may result in industrial activities moving to further offshore areas, and climate change will generate a more hostile environment for marine and maritime operations (higher sea states, more frequent extreme events). Activities should address the following aspects: 

  • How to deal with increased challenges for operations and platforms, for which management and monitoring of operations will need intelligent, faster, and more reliable control systems for remote intervention, including data simulation of potential accidents and spills, efficient strategies for prevention/containment, and consequent environmental remediation approaches.  

  • Mechanisms to promote sustainable, safe and secure coexistence of several spatial functions and activities within the Blue Economy, and how to address such coexistence within the legal, economic, social, managerial, and policy context. 

  • How to combine infrastructure, functions, and logistics: For example, energy produced at sea can be used for aquaculture farms, hydrogen production, and desalinization, whereas hydrogen can also be used as a vector to transfer energy on shore, or to refuel ships propelled by hydrogen.  


Implementation, enablers, and synergies  

Direct engagement with stakeholders from the industry is foreseen to reflect the range of sectors addressed within this Intervention Area. R&I activities will involve multiple domains including mathematics/physics, maritime, marine and aquaculture sciences, science diplomacy, economics, legal studies, and political sciences, and extend to research infrastructures and their authorities responsible at national level, and NGOs. Co-creation is foreseen by aligning activities with those of the EU Mission 'Restore our Ocean and Waters' and their regional lighthouses.  

A range of tools are foreseen to enable R&I, including Knowledge Hubs, fora with industry to understand gaps and needs, capacity building for countries without expertise in marine structures, and R&I call(s). A successful implementation will need the support of innovative NBS and purpose-driven and smart digital technologies, e.g., simulations, risk assessments and planning purposes, automated data collection and monitoring, models, taxonomy. There is good potential for engagement of in-kind infrastructures such as test-basins, simulation facilities, Digital Twin technologies, and research platforms. 

Outcomes and Impacts 

  • Examples of outcomes from R&I investment in this area: solutions for curbing greenhouse gas emissions, targeting climate neutrality in the Blue Economy, strengthening societal and economic resilience against climate-change impacts, and targeting climate neutrality from marine and maritime infrastructures. Improved assessments of ecological dynamics versus socioeconomic needs; New knowledge, tools, information, platforms and incentives to support actors from all sectors to drive the just and inclusive transition; piloting of multi-use structures; science-based recommendations for blue economic development to policymakers; support for bio- and ecological observation networks through multi-use of structures. 

  • Environmental impacts: Improved marine biodiversity & ecosystems and increased clean energy generation; More agile frameworks developed to cater to environmental challenges; Increased uptake of nature-based solutions; Increased resilience of the whole ecosystems (including fisheries) 

  • Social impacts: Generation of sustainable blue growth and markets in alignment with stakeholder interests and consumers’ rights; opportunities for new working life skills and knowledge; social acceptance of improved and new uses of ocean structures, including within the Blue Economy sectors, is achieved, and affected citizens and workers are engaged in the development. 

  • Economic impacts: generation of sustainable blue markets and opportunities; introduction into the EU legislation the allocation of areas devoted to renewable energy production.