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Success for key maritime research projects

Europe faces a number of specific research challenges in the marine and maritime domains. Under successive Research Framework Programmes, the Commission has sought to answer these challenges, compiling an impressive list of successful research initiatives.

European port © Peter Gutierrez
European port
© Peter Gutierrez

EU-funded projects have addressed issues related to the environment, societal goals, economic competitiveness, and improved understanding of the marine environment and infrastructure. Work has focused on coordinating and structuring European Research Area (ERA), with specific reference to maritime research, and it has worked to strengthen the international dimension of marine research and research in support of EU policy. A few key examples are provided below.


On the theme of ‘Competitiveness: sustainable economic and wealth generation’, the CHITOMED project is investigating the production of biomedical textiles from dibutyrylchitin and chitin.

The processing of shrimp and similar crustaceans in the seafood industries generates large volumes of shells, explain CHITOMED partners. This material is generally treated as a waste product. However, they say, it does contain a potentially useful chemical, chitin, an abundant biodegradable fibrous polymer that could be used in a number of industrial and medical applications. CHITOMED’s aim is to use chitin to produce biocompatible dressings that will aid the healing of wounds.


On the theme of ‘Environment and societal goals: climate change, pollution, natural and man-made phenomena and hazards’, the HERCULES Integrated Project is working to create cleaner, more energy-efficient marine engines. Partners are developing new technologies to reduce emissions from marine engines and increase engine efficiency and reliability, thereby reducing fuel consumption, CO 2 emissions and engine lifecycle costs.

Specific objectives include reducing related NOx emissions by 60% by 2020 and other emissions, such as particulates, by 40%. This is being achieved through a variety of new developments in thermodynamics and mechanics of ‘extreme parameter’ engines. Work is addressing advanced combustion concepts, multistage intelligent turbo charging, and ‘hot’ engines with energy recovery and compounding. In addition, new internal emission reduction methods, after-treatment techniques and new sensors are being developed.


HERMES is an Integrated Project on the theme of ‘Improved understanding of the marine environment and supporting infrastructure’. The project is designed to help gain new insights into the biodiversity, structure, function and dynamics of ecosystems along Europe’s deep-ocean margin.

The project brings together expertise in biodiversity, geology, sedimentology, physical oceanography, microbiology and biogeochemistry, stressing better understanding of the relationships between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. Study sites extend from the Arctic to the Black Sea and include open slopes and biodiversity hotspots such as cold seeps, cold-water coral mounds, canyons and anoxic environments.


European coastline © Peter Gutierrez
Understanding marine ecosystems
© Peter Gutierrez

All European Union fishing vessels and vessels fishing in European waters are fitted with a Vessel Monitoring System (VMS), which allows tracking of movements and activities. Up to now, however, authorities have not been able to monitor vessels not fitted with these systems. The new Vessel Detection System (VDS) initiative, coordinated by the European Joint Research Centre, is using polar-orbiting satellites to detect vessels at sea, without the need for VMS.

VDS pilot studies, mostly in real time, have been carried out in the Baltic, Berents and North Seas, in the English Channel, the Mediterranean and other bodies of water. These studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of VDS in detecting all vessel types, day and night and under all weather conditions. Organisers say it represents a new and powerful method for identifying potential non-compliance with fishing regulations throughout European waters.


Aimed at responding to market and societal needs, the VISIONS Network of Excellence is developing visionary concepts for vessels and floating structures. Participants are seeking to stimulate innovation in the marine engineering sector, prompting the definition and validation of forward-looking designs. Acting as a ‘think tank’ for the maritime industry, VISIONS aims to develop new product ideas for commercialisation in the medium to long term, based on market and society scenarios for the next 5-15 years.

VISIONS brings together the European shipbuilding industry, European maritime universities and leading research institutes. A pre-competitive network, it demonstrates the importance of collaboration in innovation. It is also organising an annual innovation contest.