Blue economy synergies prompt UCC-led MARIBE to seek €120m funding

29 Aug 2016

The blue economy represents roughly 5.4m jobs and generates a gross added value of almost €500bn a year, UCC-led MARIBE urges

Emboldened by synergies between researchers and start-ups targeting the €500bn European marine or “blue” economy, the UCC-led MARIBE consortium is to seek €120m in funding to be made available in the next round of Horizon 2020 funding.

MARIBE (Marine Investment in the Blue Economy) is led by the Marine Renewable Energy (MaREI) Centre in University College Cork. A total of 11 partners from Ireland, UK, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Malta and the Netherlands contribute to the project.

At a final meeting in Cork this week, MARIBE will discuss the outcomes of its research, as well as the progress of nine fledgling companies that are seeking funding.

According to the European Commission, the blue economy represents roughly 5.4m jobs and generates a gross added value of almost €500bn a year. MARIBE suggests that the recent announcement by the Port of Cork that its profits for 2015 have increased by 79pc is an example of this.

However, as maritime activity increases, so does the competition for space as coastal areas become overcrowded.

Overcrowded coastal areas threaten blue economy windfall

This fact led the European Commission to publish a call in 2014 asking researchers to prepare for the future innovative offshore economy. Expecting economic activities to move further offshore as competition for space increased, this call was designed to promote smarter and more sustainable use of our seas.

MARIBE will recommend in its report to the European Commission that €120m be made available in the next round of Horizon 2020 funding for further development of multi-use ocean space projects.

It pays particular attention to new and emerging industries that can benefit greatly from the synergies created, increasing their chances of survival and enabling future growth.

These sectors are often referred to as blue growth industries: marine renewable energy, aquaculture, marine biotechnology and seabed mining. By developing blue growth industries and encouraging smarter use of our seas, MARIBE hopes to fulfil its aim of promoting job growth.

Examples of the blue economy in action

Aware of the problems facing maritime industries as competition for space increases, a Norwegian seaweed company SES has been investigating the potential of moving their seaweed farms further offshore.

By combining with Wave Dragon, a very large wave energy device, the seaweed company could locate farms in areas not normally considered viable and where space remains abundant.  The Wave Dragon protects the seaweed from large waves and creates energy at the same time.

MARIBE pointed out that 70pc of the world’s surface is covered by water and yet 98pc of our food energy comes from agriculture on land. At a time when climate change and sustainability issues are coming to the fore, seaweed farming presents a sustainable and renewable source of biomass to meet the demands of a growing population.

By sharing space and working together, Wave Dragon and SES could share installation and maintenance costs, reducing the overall cost to each.

“It is hoped to pilot the Wave Dragon project off the Welsh coast,” said UCC’s Dr Gordon Dalton, principal investigator of the programme, “and we have been helping companies involved in the Welsh scheme to prepare plans to secure the funding they require.”

Another example of the synergy between the aquaculture and wave industry is a project that is being developed by Albatern Ltd and the AquaBiotech group.

Albatern’s wave energy devices could be installed close to a fish farm in locations (Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Malta)  up to 6km offshore. The new wave energy device could then provide electricity directly to the fish farm, reducing its costs and ensuring a supply of sustainable energy. Surplus energy could also be brought onshore to satisfy the energy needs of the farm’s onshore facilities.

“The multi-use of space projects that MARIBE works with offers the potential for great benefits in the form of clean energy and sustainable food sources. We have demonstrated that the projects are financially viable at commercial stage and that real cost savings are produced as a result of the shared use of space,” said Dalton.

Blue economy image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years