1. INTRODUCTION – BACKGROUND
The Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, hereafter referred to as "EASME", acting under the powers delegated by the European Commission (also referred to as "the Commission"), is launching a call for proposals with a view to concluding grant agreements for projects in the field of Blue Labs: innovative solutions for maritime challenges.
1.1. Regulation (EU) No 508/2014 on the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF)
This call is launched in accordance with the 2016 Work Programme for the Implementation of the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) (section 220.127.116.11. of the annex), on the basis of the objectives set out in the Regulation (EU) No 508/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 May 2014 on the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, and in particular Article 82(c).
1.2. General information concerning the call for proposals
The action covered by this call for proposals forms part of the EMFF Work Programme, whose implementation is delegated to EASME.
According to the Act of Delegation, grant agreements will be signed by EASME.
Blue Growth and Innovation in the Blue Economy
Our seas and coasts are key drivers for economic development. In the EU, it is estimated that about 5 million people work for the blue economy with about half of these in the coastal tourism sector. In addition to coastal and maritime tourism which is the largest activity at EU level, the blue economy comprises well-established sectors (such as shipbuilding and ship repair, transport, offshore oil and gas), as well as emerging sectors with a high potential for growth and jobs (such as blue biotechnology, aquaculture, renewable energy). These sectors were identified in the Blue Growth Strategy launched by the European Commission in 2012, which aims at strengthening the potential for jobs and growth of Europe's coasts, seas and oceans. However, innovation across all sectors of the blue economy is critical for realising its growth and jobs potential, which can also bring about significant environmental benefits.
A significant amount of funds such as those coming from Horizon 2020 and the EU's Structural and Investment Funds are earmarked for innovation, including in the maritime economy. Some of these initiatives seek to build bridges between the results of research on one hand and the potential investors on the other, taking innovation out of the lab and onto the market. However, the recent Communication "Innovation in the Blue Economy: realising the potential of our seas and oceans for jobs and growth" points out that further complementary actions and targeted efforts are needed to develop the potential of the blue economy in Europe. The Communication singles out that – along with marine knowledge skills and gaps – diffuse research efforts in marine and maritime science hinders inter-disciplinary learning and slows the progress of innovation in the blue economy. The Commission is working on overcoming such barriers, including in further supporting inter-disciplinary research and development as well as innovative partnerships between maritime stakeholders to support the blue economy.
Sea-basin based strategies and regional approaches
To better address the specific nature of the EU-shared sea basins and the blue economy developed there, tailor-made measures are crafted to foster cooperation, raise awareness and stimulate networks and partnerships among stakeholders across sectors and (marine) borders. In particular, sea basin strategies have been developed for the Atlantic (Action Plan for a Maritime Strategy in the Atlantic area), the Baltic Sea (EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region) and the Adriatic-Ionian Seas (EU Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian Region).
A common feature of these sea basin strategies is the recognition of the need to enable blue growth and jobs, whilst fostering the health and productivity of seas and oceans. Pressures such as climate change, growing pollution, overexploitation of fish stocks or invasions of alien species are affecting all the seas of Europe. Some of these can be more predominant in some sea basins, such as eutrophication in the Baltic Sea or marine litter in the Mediterranean. Likewise, different sea basins provide a mix of opportunities for blue growth and jobs: from the Atlantic's renewable energy potential to the Mediterranean's strong coastal and maritime tourism.
A regional initiative that deserves attention is the BLUEMED (and its related Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda - SRIA), which aims at developing a strategic marine research and innovation framework for a healthy, productive and resilient Mediterranean Sea. Following the adoption of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) Declaration on the Blue Economy (on 17 November 2015) it is now open to all UfM countries as well.
Acknowledging that a number of EU programmes are supporting research and innovation in the blue economy, the "Blue Labs" action under this call for proposals, aims to build on the results of relevant projects and support innovative and multidisciplinary approaches that can help move those results forward closer to the commercial stage. This action also takes a more targeted approach than other programmes covering marine and maritime topics, by focusing on the specificities and needs at sea basin level and in line with the regional strategies and initiatives defined above.
2. OBJECTIVES – PRIORITIES – ACTIVITIES – OUTPUTS/IMPACTS
Based on the needs set out above, this action aims at promoting innovative "laboratories" (hereinafter called Blue Labs) to pilot new and viable solutions addressing selected maritime and marine challenges and opportunities in the blue economy. The focus of this action is to support a novel way of working, where young scientists supported by researchers, industry and local stakeholders, team up to develop innovative solutions to support the development of a sustainable blue economy, while preserving marine resources and ecosystems.
In order to ensure the EU added value of supported activities, the development of solutions have to be tailored to the specific problems or needs of one or more sea basins surrounding the EU coasts (Mediterranean, Atlantic, North Sea, Baltic Sea, Black Sea).
The Blue Labs concept works at the interface between research and commercial exploitation so that results from research are taken forward to the market. By doing so, it aims at contributing to generate jobs and business opportunities in the blue economy.
In the context of the above general objectives, and in order to support the development of Blue Labs, proposals submitted under this action must develop the following specific elements:
- leveraging young peoples’ skills and creativity and increasing awareness of marine challenges and opportunities;
- supporting pioneering partnerships between maritime stakeholders and fostering multidisciplinary approaches by combining competences from businesses, the public sector and research bodies;
- supporting enhanced cooperation and coordination amongst maritime stakeholders at local and sea basin levels (including at sub-region level of the sea basin), whilst capitalising on local stakeholders’ knowledge.
For the purpose of this call, a "Blue Lab" is the collective endeavour to develop a new idea and to apply it in the maritime domain and/or marine environment. It provides the organizational space for collaborative and multidisciplinary work. A Blue Lab shall be:
- Result-oriented: resulting in a tangible deliverable, such as a marketable service or product;
- Innovative: having a pilot and/or demonstrative dimension;
- Multidisciplinary: developed by a team of post-graduate students, recent post- graduates, other students, researchers and experienced tutors from business and/or the public sector;
- Stakeholder driven: being designed and implemented in consultation with a group of relevant partners (e.g. research bodies, businesses and local authorities).
For this call for proposals, priority will be given to Blue Labs projects aiming at developing innovative solutions relating to one of the following topics:
Blue (bio)remediations: to exploit new metabolites and biomolecules, enzymes and genes from micro-organisms living in extreme marine environments; to develop and test (bio)remediation measures in different areas/places, including the possible re-use and recycling of hazardous materials.
Marine litter: to develop new technologies, tools and products to address mitigation and management of specific types of litter, including nanomaterials, micro-plastics and explosive litter.
Underwater cultural heritage: to develop new services, technologies or products (e.g. unmanned autonomous vehicles/robotic systems/etc.) to discover, protect and value underwater cultural heritage.
Invasive alien species and jelly fish proliferation: to develop new products, services and tools to address invasive alien species and/or jelly fish proliferation in the marine environment, including early detection, prevention, mitigation and management measures. Where relevant, management may include sustainable exploitation of the resources, for example jellyfish harvesting can be used for food, health and industrial applications.
These 4 topics reflect the priorities of this year's call. However, applicants may propose a Blue Lab project focusing on other themes or topics in so far as the general and specific objectives of this call for proposals are met and the choice is duly justified in the proposal.