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Heading for a climate-neutral Europe: a €530 million investment from Horizon Europe to the waterborne sector for Zero Emission Waterborne Transport

Posted on April 8, 2024

The European Green Deal is Europe’s strategy with the ambition to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent in the world by 2050. Damen interviews Clean Planet Director of the European Commission: Rosalinde van der Vlies.

With the European Partnership on Zero Emission Waterborne Transport, setting up FuelEU Maritime and the inclusion of maritime transport under the emissions trading scheme (ETS), the European Commission has taken a few serious steps in recent years to make shipping more sustainable. Time for a heads up with the Clean Planet Director of the European Commission: Rosalinde van der Vlies.

“Shipping and shipbuilding are very important for Europe, and are therefore high on my agenda. Waterborne transport moves nearly 90% of all international trade, more than 75% of external EU trade, and 40% of the internal EU trade. Moreover, it allowed 400 million passengers to move between EU ports last year. Undeniably, the sector is of strategic relevance to a functional society. Yet, shipping is almost entirely powered by fossil fuels, especially heavy fuel oils. In fact, if shipping was considered a country, it would be the sixth largest emitter of emissions (GHG), and its emissions are predicted to grow 35% by 2050, if we don’t do anything.”

“I am very pleased that the waterborne industry has committed six times more to support the activities of the partnership.”

Growth strategy

“The European Green Deal is Europe’s strategy with the ambition to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent in the world by 2050. All European Member States have agreed to a 55% reduction target of GHG emissions by 2030. It is clear that the European Green Deal is not only about sustainability, it is also our growth strategy. The Commission has recently published the Green Deal Industrial Plan to secure the EU’s industrial lead in the fast-growing net-zero technology sector.

We are investing 530 million euros from Horizon Europe to the waterborne sector within the framework of the co-programmed European Partnership on Zero Emission Waterborne Transport. This Partnership is a key instrument in achieving the objectives of the European Green Deal, by developing and demonstrating deployable technological solutions for the decarbonisation and the elimination of other harmful emissions from waterborne transport. I am very pleased that the waterborne industry has committed six times more (around 3 billion euros) to support the activities of the partnership. Therefore, this partnership is a success story in terms of leverage for increased research and innovation activities, making Europe a frontrunner in zeroemission waterborne transport in an international context.”

Fit for 55

“To deliver on the European Green Deal, the so-called Fit for 55 package includes a series of legislative measures to ensure that the laws in Europe support the green transition. The most relevant measures for the waterborne sector include the extension of the EU ETS system to maritime transport, addressing energy savings on ships and putting a price to CO2 emissions; FuelEU Maritime, addressing demand for alternative fuels and establishing limits on the GHG intensity of the energy used on board; and the Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Regulation, addressing distribution and obliging ports to supply shoreside power to ships.

The important driver for change will be adoption of renewable and low carbon fuels. However, it faces various challenges, including high cost of these fuels and low supply levels. The European regulatory framework, such as the new FuelEU Maritime in combination with the revised Energy Taxation Directive and the ETS, will improve this situation by providing a long term strategic ambition and legal certainty for industry. While the European Green Deal and the pieces of legislation I mentioned establish clear legal targets and objectives to overcome these obstacles, we in our directorate aim to translate the legal requirements into concrete actions and investments.”

No silver bullet

“Shipping is a challenging industry to decarbonise, mainly because it is so diverse. What serves short sea shipping does not fit for deep sea shipping, different solutions may be better for cargo ships and other for passenger vessels. And let’s not forget inland waterway transport. There is no silver bullet.”

“Our overarching goal is to provide and demonstrate zeroemission solutions for all main ship types and services before 2030, which will enable zero-emission waterborne transport before 2050. To make this ambition operational, we divided it into three objectives: i) eliminate GHG emissions from new ships and retrofitted existing ships by means of sustainable alternative climate-neutral fuels, renewable energies, electrification and energy efficiency; ii) cutting coastal and inland pollution to air by at least 50% compared to current levels; iii) elimination of pollution to water – including harmful underwater noise – from ships. Everything we do in the context of our partnership covers at least one of these objectives.

Through all these activities we also contribute to the Horizon Europe Mission: Restore our Ocean and Waters, which aims to protect and restore the health of our oceans and waters through research and innovation, citizen engagement and blue investments by 2030.”


“Europe is a global leader in the construction of complex vessels, such as large cruise ships, offshore support vessels, ferries and mega-yachts. Shipbuilding is a key industry in a number of EU Member States, strongly connected with the excellence of the European waterborne transport infrastructure. My hope for the sector is to maintain our leadership in these areas, and for the sector to become the most innovative, sustainable and competitive waterborne sector in the world.”

“For example, Horizon Europe’s Smart European Shipbuilding project aims to create integrated platforms that combine the most modern shipbuilding lifecycle management with computer-aided design, manufacturing, engineering and product data software. The overall goal is to improve efficiency in all production stages – from engineering to assembly and construction – at European shipyards. This has the potential to achieve up to a 30% time-saving in engineering and up to 20% time-saving in assembly and construction at European shipyards.

European shipyards are key in the integration of green technologies in the vessels, most notably when it comes to retrofitting or energy efficiency by design. For this reason, it is great to see that shipyards such as Damen are active members of our partnership and participate in various Horizon Europe projects on innovative manufacturing. Together we invest in developing innovative technologies that will put us in a frontrunner position for the manufacturing of the next generation of ships.”

Active in Europe

Damen is very active on a European level. The company was one of the driving forces behind the Zero Emission Waterborne Transport (ZEWT) co-programmed partnership (cPP). This results from Damen’s active membership in Sea Europe, the European Association for shipbuilders and maritime equipment providers. Former Damen CEO René Berkvens has recently been elected Chairman of the association for a second term. Damen has, since its initiation also been represented in the Partnership Delegates Board, the board that is responsible for the communication between the ZEWT cPP and the European Commission, first by Peter van Terwisga and currently by Pieter Huyskens, Damen’s RD&I Director.

Damen is also making good use of the funding made available in Europe, under the ZEWT partnership and outside the scope of ZEWT. Some examples of recently finalised and ongoing projects are listed on the right.

Projects under the Horizon programme

  • LeanShips – Finalised: LeanShips was crucial in the development of a lot of Damen’s knowledge on electrical propulsion, more specifically for the electric version of Damen’s tugs such as Sparky.
  • FLEXSHIP: Flexible and modular large battery systems for safe on-board integration and operation of electric power.
  • HYPOBAT: Ultra-fast charging solutions for maritime electric propulsion.
  • SEABAT: High energy and high-power batteries for maritime use.
  • E-SHyIPS: Hydrogen for maritime use.
  • POSEIDON: Energy storage systems such as ultracapacitors and flywheels.
  • StasHH: Heavy duty fuel cell development.
  • CirclesofLife: Lifecycle assessment of circular vessels and reducing and measuring the impact of the shipyard.
  • NAVAIS – Finalised: NAVAIS focused on the application of Model Based Systems Engineering (MBSE) as an approach to deal with the complexity and risks of sustainable solutions.

Projects under the European Defence Fund

  • EUROGUARD: Scale up MBSE methodology as a standard way of working for naval shipbuilding.
  • dThor: Structural health monitoring of naval vessels.
  • EDINAF: European Naval Digital Ship Reference Architecture, integrating on board systems to achieve faster reactions and enhanced capabilities.
  • REACTS: Satellite launching from naval vessels.

Project under the European Defence Industrial Development Program

  • SEA DEFENCE: Technology roadmaps for next generation naval platforms.


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