The “Blue Economy” has been identified as a driver of European growth, through the development of new competences and activities that enable a sustainable exploitation of ocean resources. Strategies and policies were formulated, to achieve these goals. Research and innovation, aiming at the revitalisation of established sectors and the development of emerging industries as well as at a better understanding of the marine environment and the requirements for its preservation were key elements of these strategies.
The strategies and policies defined at EU level had a strong impact upon the formulation of the Portuguese National Ocean Strategy 2013-2020 and the associated Mar-Portugal Action Plan. The central goal was to enable the country to recover its “national maritime identity” and regain a position in this area, by increasing the contribution of maritime sectors to the domestic product, strengthening the scientific and technological capacity, and stimulating the development of new fields.
The objective of this paper is analyse the directions followed by the research and technology development activities conducted by Portuguese organisations in the areas encompassed by the Blue Economy, in order to conduct a first assessment of the effectiveness of the strategic orientations defined. In particular, we seek to understand:
a) which areas appear to have been privileged and thus are likely to be developing faster, and which are the main gaps; which is the relative importance of new areas vs. advances targeting established ones;
b) the position of different types of actors in the developments taking place, namely to what extent they involve companies; the role played by new technology intensive companies in developing new technologies and products and/or in linking between research and industry.
For this purpose, the paper analyses the research and technology development (RTD) activities conducted by Portuguese organisations in the context of projects funded under the Horizon 2020 European Framework Programme for Research and Innovation (2014-2020). Using the Community Research and Development Information Service (CORDIS), we identified and collected information on the 136 projects with Portuguese participation related with the Blue Economy and on their participants. The projects were classified according to the priority areas defined in the Portuguese Strategy and Action-Plan, in order to assess their position relatively to them.
The analysis of the projects shows a heterogeneous picture (cf. Table 1). The results indicate an important investment, in particular by research organisations, in “system structuring” activities, i.e. the development of knowledge about the marine resources and marine environment, as well as about the impacts of human activity and ways to reduced or remediate them. This was identified as a gap in the national strategy and is critical for the sustainable exploitation of the ocean. They also show that activities targeting industrial activity are mostly concentrated in the exploitation of living resources and in marine energies. In the first case, by attempting to revitalise established industries (e.g. fish capture and transformation) namely through research investment in aquaculture. But also by investing in a new area – marine biotechnology – with a variety of application sectors (e.g. fisheries, health, environment). In the second case, by strengthening the investment made in marine renewable energies in the last decades.
Concerning organisations positioning (cf. Table 2), results show the central role of research organisations that not only dominate in structural activities but are often part of mixed teams in application-oriented projects. They also point to an important role of new technology intensive companies (e.g. active in biotechnology, instrumentation, underwater robotics and materials), particularly in areas that require development of more application-oriented methods, products, services. A similar role is played in some areas by a few other technology-oriented companies, often large firms. These two types of firms are often part of mixed teams with research organisations and, in a few cases, with established companies from user sectors. But the participation of this latter group is very limited.
The analysis was mostly focused on Portuguese organisations. However, the majority of projects also involved organisations from other countries, which were the main actors in some of them. In this broader context, Portuguese organisations could profit from the interaction with reputed foreign partners, namely in areas where new competence was being acquired. Thus, the areas targeted by these projects were also areas where the development of country capabilities in Blue Economy fields could reap the benefits from international research cooperation, which potentially contributed to broadening knowledge bases and extending international networks.
These results can be relevant for policy makers, providing some indications on the relative success of policies for the development of a Blue Economy in Portugal and signalling the areas that still require greater attention.
Table 1 - EU projects by priority areas
Table 2 - Project teams by priority area
Blue economy; Policy Strategies; Innovation System; Research & Development; New Technology Intensive Firms
Sousa, C., Conceição, O. and Fontes, M. (2020) Creating a Blue Economy: Research and innovation partnerships to accelerate the development of ocean-related industries, oral presentation at Workshop Dinâmicas Socioeconómicas e Territoriais Contemporâneas V, 21-22 Janeiro 2020, DINAMIA’CET-IUL, Lisboa.