EU invests €23m to prime pump marine research

16 Sep 2010

The Irish Government has confirmed that €23m will be invested through the EU 7th Framework Programme to support 32 SMEs as well as 14 research projects to develop cutting-edge solutions out of marine research, including renewable ocean energy.

The investment will support an estimated 130 young graduates and researchers.

Some 32 Irish marine research groups, including 21 SMEs, participating in 43 collaborative projects under the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) of the European Union, have been awarded more than €17.5m in grant aid.

In addition, a further 14 projects (indicative grant-aid: €5.5m) are under contract negotiation, bringing the total amount of EU research funds secured by Ireland to circa €23m. These research earnings will provide employment that is of even greater importance in these challenging economic times.

This impressive performance by the Irish marine science sector represents five times the leverage rate that might be expected from a country with Ireland’s national investment in marine RTDI (2pc).

It also represents a doubling of the EU grant aid awarded to Ireland’s marine science sector under the previous Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), when 59 collaborative projects from Ireland were awarded €10.6m in grant aid.

The top Irish FP7 performers in terms of total grant aid (68pc of allocation to Irish groups) during the period 2007-2009, are: University College Cork (including the Hydraulics and Maritime Research Centre and Coastal and Marine Research Centre) (23pc); the Marine Institute (12pc); Wavebob Ltd (11pc); Nautical Enterprise Centre Ltd (8pc) and NUI-Galway and AquaTT Ltd at 7pc each.

Marine science planning

“Ireland’s dramatic success in attracting EU funding to its marine science programmes was achieved by our strategic approach to marine science planning highlighting the National Marine R&D Strategy, Sea Change – A Marine Knowledge, Research & Innovation Strategy for Ireland 2007-2013, a key component of the Strategy for Science and Technology in Ireland (SSTI),” the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Brendan Smith TD said.

It was also assisted by the strong influence Ireland has brought to bear at European level on the shape of the FP7 that accommodates marine topics as a cross-cutting theme in all FP7 programmes.”

In line with the Irish Government’s renewable energy policy and Ocean Energy Strategy, Irish researchers are particularly active in the renewable ocean energy space, which represents a very significant opportunity for Ireland given our strategic location on the Atlantic seaboard. 

Researchers from the Hydraulics and Maritime Research Centre (UCC) are leading two major European wave energy projects (CORES, MARINA) and are participants in a number of others (EquiMar, ORECCA).  The Irish ocean energy device developer Wavebob Ltd is leading a major industry project (STANDPOINT) with partners from Spain, Portugal, Germany and Sweden on new developments in wave converter technology.

In the sea-fisheries sector, researchers from the Marine Institute are participating in the MEFEPO project, with partners from UK, Portugal, Netherlands, France, Norway, Denmark and Spain, which is looking to deliver new ideas on sea fisheries management. According to Dr Paul Connolly (Marine Institute) “the Fisheries Atlas of NW Atlantic Waters, produced as part of the MEFEPO Project, has been warmly received by the North Western Waters Regional Advisory Council (RAC) and the fishing industry”.

The sea – Ireland’s greatest natural resource

“The sea is arguably Ireland’s greatest natural resource. Properly studied and managed, it can create jobs, generate economic revenue and supply the raw materials for new industries ranging from ocean energy and environmental monitoring technologies to marine-inspired pharmaceuticals and food ingredients,” Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, Batt O’Keeffe TD, said.

“The award of funding for these projects show that partnerships between academics and small businesses can yield significant dividends and make an important contribution to the Government’s plan for a smarter economy.”

In 2007, the Marine Institute established a National Marine Biotechnology Programme, to address the opportunities associated with a sector estimated to be worth €2.8bn (2010) globally and with a cumulative annual growth rate of 4-5pc.

Demonstrating the strength of Irish researchers in this area, researchers from the Limerick Institute of Technology will lead a major project (BAMMBO), with partners in France, Spain and Brazil, to investigate the sustainable production of biologically active molecules of marine origin for commercial purposes.

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