Funding Opportunities in Blue Economy

Earlier this month, Innovayt attended the annual event of the Blue Bio Value Accelerator, which happened in parallel to the Web Summit in Lisbon. Promoted by Oceano Azul Foundation and Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, in partnership with Blue Bio Alliance and Maze, Blue Bio Value supports start-ups developing sustainable blue biotechnology towards a healthier use of ocean bioresources. Their solutions provide alternatives for the sustainable exploitation of marine resources, and for the monitoring of marine and coastal areas.

We were delighted to network with founders from 12 different countries, ranging from Canada to Norway and Portugal, among others. Their solutions covered topics such as food and feed, nutraceutical and cosmetics, fishing technologies, seaweed production and aquaculture solutions, environmental technologies, and remote sensing and monitoring. Portugal’s privileged location and its exclusive economic zone of 1.7 million km2, the third largest in the EU, has made it an attractive and strategic spot for these start-ups to set up and boost their sustainable businesses in the blue economy.

Cláudia Mendes, Innovation Consultant at Innovayt, with a background in Marine Science shared:

It was thrilling to see so many excellent projects from around the world that recognise Portugal’s attractiveness as a hub for innovation in the Blue Economy sector.

Attending the Blue Bio Value Accelerator event inspired us to give an overview on the EU Sustainable Blue Economy and the role it plays in the green transition, as well as to outline the main European funding opportunities in the Blue Economy sector.

What is the Sustainable Blue Economy and what role does it play in the Green transition?

The EU Sustainable Blue Economy “encompasses all industries and sectors related to oceans, seas and coasts, whether they are based directly in the marine environment (e.g., shipping, seafood, energy generation) or on land (e.g., ports, shipyards, coastal infrastructures)”. The EU Blue Economy currently provides 3.2 million direct jobs and generate over €667 billion in turnover in the EU, according to the EU Blue Economy Report 2022.

The Sustainable Blue Economy will play a major role in achieving the European Green Deal goals – there is no green without blue. Oceans are an important source of energy, food, recreation, and other resources key to human activities and well-being. In addition, the oceans are the largest carbon sink, absorbing 25% of the global CO2emissions released into the atmosphere by human activities. At the same time, marine ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change (e.g., ocean acidification), overexploitation of resources, and pollution from plastic, nutrients, and other contaminants. As such, there is an urge for innovative solutions to tackle these challenges. Blue economy activities, such as fisheries and aquaculture, must become more circular and sustainable, preventing pollution, all while preserving marine biodiversity and ecosystems.

What does the European funding landscape look like for the Blue Economy sector?

The European Maritime Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund (EMFAF) has various relevant programmes and calls in this area. There are currently two calls running, the regional flagships projects supporting sustainable blue economy in EU sea basins and the blue careers for a sustainable blue economy.

  • The regional flagships projects supporting sustainable blue economy in EU sea basins covers key topics in the sustainable blue economy, including diversification of fishing activities, marine pollution, sustainable transport and ports, sustainable coastal tourism, and regenerative ocean farming.
  • The blue careers for a sustainable blue economy call aims to support cooperation between the blue economy industry and relevant training providers (e.g., academic institutions, vocational education providers) to develop the blue skills needed to support the sustainable economy towards reaching the ambitions of the European Green Deal.

Under Horizon Europe there are two Missions representing efforts to come up with concrete solutions applicable to this topic: Mission “Restore our Oceans and Waters by 2030” and Mission “Adaptation to Climate Change“. Calls for funding of specific projects under each of the Missions will be announced in the 2023-2024 Work Programme.

  • The Mission “Restore our Oceans and Waters by 2030” looks to addresses the challenges of protecting and restoring marine and freshwater ecosystems and biodiversity, eliminating pollution, and making the blue-economy carbon-neutral and circular within the EU’s ocean, seas and waters. In the pilot-phase (2022-2025), a set of lighthouse projects will address each challenge within specific EU sea basins. Then, in the deployment and upscaling phase (2026-2030) each solution will be deployed, replicated and upscaled across EU Waters.
  • In turn, the Mission “Adaptation to Climate Change” will support vulnerable regions, local authorities, and communities to become climate resilient by 2030. It will support these actors to understand, prepare for, and manage climate risks, as well as develop innovative solutions to build resilience. Coastal regions are among the most vulnerable to climate change effects, e.g., through sea level rise and extreme weather events such as hurricanes and flooding. This Mission may have relevant calls for those working in the blue economy, with topics such as nature-based solutions to protect coastal infrastructure.

Under the annual EU LIFE Programme‘s calls, sub-programmes Nature and Biodiversity”Circular Economy and Quality of Life, and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation, are also opportunities for development and implementation of blue bioeconomy projects.

In addition, worth keeping an eye on Cluster 6. Food, Bioeconomy, Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environmentunder the Horizon Europe Pillar II – Global Challenges & European Industrial Competitiveness. Projects that relate to circular economy, improving sustainability of fishing and aquaculture practices, and blue bioeconomy and technology may fit some of the calls of the 2023-2024 Work Programme.

The Interreg Atlantic Area programme, under the EU Cohesion Policy, supports transnational cooperation projects in the Atlantic regions of France, Ireland, Portugal, and Spain to tackle common challenges, and achieve economic, social, and territorial cohesion. The programme has four thematic priorities: “Blue innovation and competitiveness”, “Blue and green environment”, “Blue sustainable and social tourism & culture”, and “A better governance for cooperation”.

The European Partnership for a climate neutral, sustainable, and productive Blue Economy (SBEP) is one of the European Partnerships in food, bioeconomy, natural resources, agriculture and environment, under Horizon Europe. The Partnership includes a network of 60 partner institutions from the EU-25, and the European Commission. They will pool investments in research and innovation for transnational calls and resources,  with a focus on the sea-basin dimension, to maximise impact at regional, national, and international levels. The partnership will target 5 intervention areas:

  1. Development and Validation of Ocean Digital Twins at sub- sea-basin scale
  2. Blue generation marine structures
  3. Planning and managing sea-uses
  4. Healthy ‘Blue Food’ under a ’One Health’ approach
  5. Enabling the green transition of ‘Blue Food’ production

The planned investment is €450 million over the next 7 years. The first call for proposals will open in February 2023.

Lastly, the BlueInvest is an equity initiative for the sustainable blue economy, scaled up from the first BlueInvest programme. It will be an accelerator for the blue economy sector, providing coaching and matching with investors for SMEs.

Innovative projects can shift the current paradigm of the blue economy and will dictate the future of our oceans, and the future of human populations who largely depend on the resources they provide.

You are welcome to contact us if you have any further questions, or if you need the support to find the funding to realise your innovative idea.

Want to discuss your options?