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Transport in FP7: how far have we come?

As Horizon 2020 gets up to speed and FP7 draws to a close, the research and technology funding programme for the transport sector can look back on many significant achievements in the areas of aeronautics and air transport, waterborne transport and the road and rail sectors. Altogether, €2.22 billion has been allocated to 620 research and technology projects in the transport domain during the 2007-2013 period.

Tags: Multimodal

With more than EUR 1 billion of EU funding invested in research and technology development, the achievements of the Aeronautics and Air Transport (AAT) programme are both numerous and significant. The primary output concerns the maturation of a wide range of technologies for aeronautics and air transport which are enabling progress towards a number of policy goals. However, there are also a number of outcomes on cross-cutting issues, such as international co-operation with coordinated calls with Russia, Japan and China, support for SMEs, dissemination of knowledge and schemes for attracting young engineers to the aviation sector. Overall, "Cost-efficiency" and "Greener air transport" activities took close to two-thirds of the funding. For R&D topics, propulsion systems lead the way followed by design tools, avionics and aero structures.

That cost efficiency activities lead in both number of projects and funding reflects the contribution they are making to the competitiveness and innovativeness of the EU aeronautics industry. New modern design tools are helping lower development costs and design times, supported by new measurement and testing techniques. Avionics has benefited from research into modern displays, innovative digital technologies and reduced maintenance and upgrade costs.

The "Clean Sky 1" initiative, a Public Private Partnership between the European Commission and the aeronautical industry, is bringing significant step changes in improving the environmental impact of aviation by speeding up the development of innovative and cleaner technologies. To continue this work, the Clean Sky 2 initiative will take over under Horizon 2020. The greening of air transport attracted a third of the funding available for projects on noise reduction, lowering emissions and alternative fuels. Customer satisfaction, time efficiency and security have also been active R&D areas. Coordination Actions have contributed to maintaining an up-to-date picture of the state-of-the-art and to generating recommendations for the future.

The Sustainable Surface Transport theme, for its part, has covered the major challenges of the three surface transport modes: road, rail and waterborne transportation. Research and development have focused both on the necessary technological developments and breakthrough research specific to the individual transportation modes, and on research aiming at a better functioning of the overall transport system. Urban transport and logistics were given high visibility and funding. The responses to the calls for proposals were extremely positive, allowing all major research priorities of surface transport to be addressed through several clusters of projects delivering high-quality results.

For road transport FP7 priorities have included creating greener transport options that improve sustainability and efficiency and decongest transport corridors, ensuring sustainable urban mobility.. In addition, the safety and security of transport and passengers, and the competitiveness of the industry are being addressed.

The European Green Cars initiative is providing financial support for new technologies to power cars, trucks and buses in the future – for example the EE-VERT project to develop vehicle energy management strategies, for electrical, mechanical and thermal energies, to reduce emissions by up to 40%. Likewise research to allow groups of vehicles – "platoons" – to operate on public highways with safety while improving traffic flow (SARTRE project). As Horizon 2020 gets underway, much of the road transport R&D will build on the strategic research agenda prepared by the ERTRAC technology platform and updated within FP7.

Research and technological development funding for waterborne transport has focused on five challenges: greening, competitiveness, safety and security, intermodality and logistics, and joint initiatives under the Ocean of Tomorrow programme. In all, €219 million has been allocated to 65 waterborne transport projects over 2007-2013. These have covered a range activities: for example combating oil and chemical pollution (Argomarine), safer ship-based crane operations (Securcrane), decision-support systems for ship operations in rough weather (Handling waves), and molten carbonate fuel cells for on-board power generation (MC-WAP). Other important projects have developed emission reduction and energy efficiency solutions for European built ships that will improve the marine environment and boost EU employment. Likewise, research on improvements to the productivity of small and medium-sized European shipyards is contributing to higher skills and the competitiveness of the maritime sector.

Rail transport research has concentrated on interoperability, intelligent mobility, safety and security for passengers and infrastructure, the environment, and innovative materials and production methods. Rail signalling and points systems were investigated in the INESS project to improve the interoperability of rail transport across Europe and encourage the use of rail systems.

The railway personnel of the future were the topic of a project to boost education and training for a more innovative and competitive rail sector (Futurail), while INTEGRITY brought improvements to the reliability and predictability of door-to-door container transport. The Rail Technology Platform ERRAC completed its roadmap for the rail industry"s strategic research agenda with FP7 support, and is now implementing it within the FOSTER-RAIL project.

Urban Mobility is a dedicated priority activity for transport research. Research continues to focus on new transport and mobility concepts in towns and cities, high quality public transport and innovative strategies for cleaner urban travel. Managing the demand for transport and transport facilities is another focus, and there is an emphasis on research to support urban transport policies. Relevant projects include the European bus system of the future (EBSF), automated electric vehicles (CityMobil2), managing urban multimodal transport (Opticities), and improved urban logistics and freight vehicles (Citymove and Smartfusion). The Urban Mobility priority has also seen international cooperation projects such as TransAfrica (sub-Saharan Africa) and Viajeo (Brazil and China).

Logistics research has also received a significant boost with the launch of the ALICE European Technology Platform that is developing a comprehensive EU strategy for research, innovation and market deployment of logistics and supply chain management innovation. Project examples include the StraightSol project developing a new impact assessment methodology being tested in seven innovative urban freight demonstrators. SMEs and small forwarders are the target of Logicon, which is developing low-cost data-connectivity solutions for the many small transport companies. Other examples are:

  • CO3 is a project developing an economic and legal basis for horizontal co-operation in the supply chain, i.e. that companies (like Baxter and Delhaize) share their transport means in order to reach a higher load factor (The actual load factor is < 50%. Improvement up to 70% would potentially equal to a €100 to €300 billion cost savings for the EU.)
  • Comcis targets collaboration: access, standardise, consolidate & deliver information from multiple data sources and parties. This enables all parties to be aware at any time of the status of their goods.
  • Ecohubs focuses on collaborative business models for inland terminals enabling them to remain competitive but also "greener" in forthcoming years in response to increasing pressure for higher capacity and more stringent environmental requirements.
  • Loginn is a virtual platform for exchanging communications on logistics, best practices, experiences and even advising.

An important trend in transport research has been the significant increase in transversal research – gathering competences from a variety of industrial sectors and scientific disciplines in order to better address the socio-economic and environmental objectives of transport. This is seen in the several joint calls implemented in FP7, such as Ocean of Tomorrow in the field of marine and maritime research and the European Green Cars Initiative in the area of clean and energy efficient road and urban transport.

Technology Platforms" growing involvement

FP7 has also seen industry getting more and more involved in the definition of research priorities and more generally in European RDI governance. In addition to the new ALICE ETP for logistics, the European Technology Platforms ERTRAC, ERRAC and Waterborne play an essential role in coordinating research and innovation and prioritising research. More recently, the launch of the European Green Cars initiative, end of 2008, along with the adoption of the European economic recovery plan, is another important example to be highlighted. With this initiative a further step has been achieved in involving industry into the governance of FP7.