Go to expert opinions


Mapping European funding opportunities for waterborne transport projects

Waterborne Technology Platform
Andre Guimares

André Guimarães

Consultant and waterborne transport expert

Around 248 million euros. This is the amount of funding requested so far for 35 waterborne transport projects funded in 2021-2023 calls in destination 5 of cluster 5 of the Horizon Europe programme, the one dedicated to clean and competitive solutions for all waterborne transports modes.


In the ranking of the 20 countries that have requested the most money, Norway is in first place, with 41 million euros, followed by Italy with 33 million euros and Germany with 27 million euros. But paradoxical as it may seem, countries with a great seafaring tradition, such as Portugal and Spain, are not in the pole position. The first one is in eighteenth place (1.7 million euros) and the second one in the seventh (17 million euros). And yet, the opportunities for waterborne transport companies are numerous, highlighting the great potential that could be exploited by applying for this specific destination.

Zero emission waterborne transport partnership

Created by the European Commission, this Partnership between the public sector, represented by the European Commission and the private sector, represented by the Waterborne Technology Platform (WTP), aims at leading and accelerating the transformation of waterborne transport (i.e., maritime transport and inland navigation) to eliminate all harmful environmental emissions (including greenhouse gas, air, and water pollutants) through innovative technologies and operation. By 2030, the objective is to develop and demonstrate deployable zero-emission solutions which are applicable for all main ship types and services, to enable the achievement of zero-emission waterborne transport by 2050.

In the next call Horizon-CL5-2024-D5-01 (deadline: 18 April 2024), there are seven topics dedicated to the ZEWT partnership with a budget of 61 million euros.

Overall, the goal is to facilitate the transition to a more sustainable and climate-neutral waterborne transport sector, in line with the EU’s broader climate and energy goals for 2030 and beyond.

Waterborne technology platform

As part of the ZEWT, the WTP is the European research and innovation platform for the waterborne industries, providing policy guidance to the European institutions regarding Research, Development, and Innovation as well as the deployment of these innovations. It is a public-private partnership that brings together 120 stakeholders from across the waterborne sector, including industry, research organizations, and public authorities, dealing with not only Maritime related issues but also Inland Navigation and lakes and Ports, being composed by three working groups: Ships & Shipping; Ports & Logistics; and Blue Growth.

Its main function is the definition of the research, innovation and technology roadmap, co-programming the EU calls for research, including demonstration/demonstrators (while the EU will run calls and projects in the normal way), allowing to achieve a greater attention towards the maritime sector in other EU funds (Innovation Fund, CEF) and therefore the recognition of the importance of the sector (all actors in the waterborne transport ecosystem).

Budget of Horizon Europe for waterborne transport

In turn, the aforementioned ZEWT partnership has been created by the European Commission in order to tackle issues like the great diversity within the maritime and inland waterway transport sector, which hinders the adoption of zero-emission modes of transport. The fact is that solutions found for one type of ship may not apply to another.

A lack of a common innovation agenda exists, and business models vary, impeding new technologies’ adoption. Seagoing ships require radically changed new-build vessels within ten years, with zero-emission retrofit solutions necessary for inland navigation. The western European inland waterway vessels’ relatively old fleet presents lower energy and environmental efficiencies. Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium have half of the active fleet built over 50 years ago, and 15% of the European fleet was built over 75 years ago.

The European Commission has committed €530 M EUR from Horizon Europe towards the Partnership, and the industry has committed over €3.3 Billion EUR of investments in the period 2021 – 2030. This 3.3 billion EUR consists in in-kind contributions from the (partnership) Partners, with about 40% of its value being allocated to: industrial RD&I programs of the members contributing to the objectives of the Partnership (20%); and to demonstrating that the results are achievable in a repetitive manner and thus qualifying the new developed solution (20%). The upscaling of prototypical low emission systems in new-built ships or retrofitting of existing ones also has a great impact on the expected cost, representing about 15% of the 3.3 billion EUR. The standardisation required for the technological developments (alto to ensure IPR protection), combined with the development of new classification rules and regulations for design, are expected to represent a total of 10% of the budget.

Other instruments

The ZEWT Partnership also mobilises additional investments using finance investment mechanisms including, for example, any emerging climate change investment banks, innovation investment guarantees and performance-based schemes where innovative technology is leased based on assured performance guarantees. In addition to this, the Partnership’s activities will mobilise further resources within the Member States, several of which have indicated that they expect to orientate their national RD&I programmes to ensure complementarity with the Partnership and further increase leverage.

Also, mechanisms supporting first of a kind deployment to provide market reassurance will be implemented to complement the outcomes from the Partnership, including synergies with available funds from private foundations, as well as European instruments. Synergy deployment instruments include Innovation Fund programme, Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) and Regional Funds. Synergies in R&I with other partnerships are Clean Hydrogen Joint Undertaking, Batteries4EU, Mission on oceans and Mission on cities of Horizon Europe programme.

Expert person

Andre Guimares
André Guimarães

Lisbon Office

Consultant and waterborne transport expert