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Supply Chain Security topic 2: Technologies for inspections of large volume freight


Specific challenge:


Approximately 70% of all cargo is transported in intermodal shipping containers representing approximately 240 million container moves in any given year. As a major trans‐shipment hub, the EU handles around a third of the container moves throughout the world. Container security associated with terrorist threats, illegal immigration, theft and smuggling is therefore an important factor in the overall EU border security.


The greatest volume (and risk) of illegal/illicit/mis-declared goods into the EU, as of interest to Customs, include, but are not limited to: illicit narcotics (heroin, cocaine, etc.) explosives, tobacco products, chemicals. Intelligence together with scanning is useful in narrowing suspicious consignments, but ultimately a physical examination of the load is required. This is resource intensive and adds cost and delay to importers, should the anomaly be found to be benign.




Customs currently employ a limited amount of technology to assist in working on its largest problem: how to counter hiding/smuggling in large volume freight. Thus far the technology of choice is X-ray interrogation (supported by risk-selection). Ideally, upon effective risk selection, the most effective (array of) technology out of a number of availabilities should be selected to screen the freight. The best results (relative low false-positive, relative low false negative) is expected to be achieved in a situation in which (at least) two independent  technologies are employed in conjunction.


The research should explore options for parallel development of at least two different technologies for container scanning, for instance:

1)      Atomic property based interrogation (e.g. X-ray, muon, neutron), particularly to detect threat materials shielded in dense cargos, interrogation technology being directed towards the detection of organic products of relevance to Customs;

2)      Evaporation based interrogation (e.g. mass spectrometry, biological detection, ion mobility spectrometry), with targeted selectivity at approximately femtogram/ litre level, to be directed towards a wider scope.


It is difficult to predict a priori which technology would yield the most practical solution. Therefore, these combined approaches should be validated in an operational scenario, to come up with practical, wide scope, detection tool  to be used on large volume freight (e.g. containers and large pallets).  The solutions proposed should address the employment of innovative technologies, which have been demonstrated to be able to dramatically enhance the performance of imaging and sensor systems.


Proposals addressing this topic may involve the use of classified background information (EU or national) or the production of security sensitive results. As such, certain project deliverables may require security classification. The final decision on the classification of projects is subject to the security evaluation.


The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU of between €5m and €12m would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.

In line with the EU's strategy for international cooperation in research and innovation[1] international cooperation is encouraged, and in particular with international research partners involved in ongoing discussions and workshops, and US homeland security research entities. Funding for third countries is however still subject to the  evaluations.


Expected impact:

The research is expected to provide a substantial contribution in the prevention of the unlawful transport of dangerous and illicit materials, also protecting critical elements of the supply chain from attacks and disruptions. A technology which could scan a load with high probability of detection of particular key commodities would increase efficiency and throughput and reduce cost and delays to innocent shippers. Solutions are therefore to be developed to allow for an increased assurance level in particular for dense containerised cargo, avoiding the need to unnecessarily resorting to physical inspection. As the research should facilitate and expedite the smooth flow of legitimate international trade through improved security controls, it would support the work of WCO for high risk cargo.


The outcome of the proposal is expected to lead to development up to Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 7; please see part G of the General Annexes.


Type of action: Research & Innovation Actions



[1] COM(2012)497