The need to cut carbon emissions has never been more important. Shifting away from fossil fuels is increasingly urgent. Britain’s industrial heartlands are taking the lead on industrial decarbonisation and green job creation.
Industries such as metals, chemicals, food and drink, paper and pulp, ceramics, glass and oil refining account for around one sixth of UK emissions. The government sees the industrial clusters of Humberside, the Black Country, South Wales, Scotland, Teesside, North-West England and the Solent as pivotal in reaching net zero by 2050.
A strategy has been set with the goal of creating the world’s first net zero industrial cluster by 2040, and at least four low-carbon clusters by 2030. It will be a huge transformation of the industrial regions which are essential for our economy, contributing £170bn each year and providing 2.6 million jobs.
What’s happening in the industrial regions?
In the industrial regions, technologies are being developed and deployed to help sectors decarbonise.
For example, in Scotland, there are onshore developments in decarbonisation, including shipping infrastructure and low-carbon hydrogen production, and offshore developments such as pipelines to transport and inject carbon dioxide for long-term secure storage.
Net Zero Teesside Onshore is developing low-carbon infrastructure including flexible gas power and carbon capture usage and storage to complement regional renewable energy.
The Zero Carbon Humber Partnership is creating parallel carbon dioxide and hydrogen pipelines linking the region’s industrial emitters. This will enable emissions capture and transport, and fuel-switching to hydrogen for a sustainable transition to low-carbon energy.
In the North-West, HyNet is developing low-carbon hydrogen production facilities used for industrial fuel switching, as well as a system of transporting carbon dioxide emissions to depleted Liverpool Bay gas fields.
In the Teeside and Humber regions, the Northern Endurance Partnership is developing an offshore carbon dioxide pipeline network for transport and storage solutions for two first-of-a-kind onshore capture projects.
In South Wales, developments include regional hydrogen production, carbon dioxide transportation, and new collaborations between industry, agriculture, towns and cities, and transport.
What kind of jobs can we expect?
Decarbonising the UK’s largest industrial clusters will provide an excellent opportunity to future proof existing jobs as well as create new jobs. We can expect to see job creation in engineering (mechanical, electrical and chemical engineers), project management, construction, hydrogen installation and commissioning technicians, carbon monitoring technicians, pipeline fitters and designers, and maintenance roles.
The development of skills is not just limited to low carbon industries, decarbonisation will also help to protect and create new jobs within the wider supply chains, where industry and businesses will have the opportunity to develop the skills required to manage resources efficiently and reduce carbon emissions.
The national focal point
As Director of IDRIC, I’m excited about our role as the national focal point and international gateway for industrial decarbonisation research and innovation. We are supporting the effort underway in industrial regions by bringing together universities and businesses, nurturing talent, sharing knowledge and providing evidence for decision-makers.
IDRIC has immense convening power, working with over 20 universities and engaging with over 100 world-leading researchers. We are backed by £20m of UKRI funding until 2024. By acting as a one stop shop and taking a whole systems approach, we can ensure decarbonisation gathers pace and scale.
Since being set up in 2021, IDRIC has launched more than 40 research and innovation projects. These have been grouped into nine Multidisciplinary Integrated Programmes, each addressing a key challenge or pathway for industrial decarbonisation.
Themes include system planning, infrastructure, scale up opportunities as well as reducing the costs of deployment of technologies, such as carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS), hydrogen, and greenhouse gas removal (GGR).
Decarbonisation solutions can only be delivered with the backing of policy and decision makers, and a supportive policy and regulatory frameworks. Mutual understanding of policy priorities as well as challenges facing industry and policy makers working in this fast moving area is vital to identify and coordinate effective policy and regulatory solutions for enabling and accelerating decarbonisation across UK industry.
Our policy team is taking a key role in this area, and is currently bringing together insights and intelligence gained from a series of workshops and bilateral meetings from across industry and academic partners, trade associations and government policy makers to create a policy white paper which will be shared with our partners.
Connecting with decision-makers
IDRIC has set up a policy forum which convenes dialogue between research, industry, policymakers and local communities.
All this activity, I hope, gives you a flavour of the passion and commitment with which we are approaching this challenge. By tackling decarbonisation from all angles – from addressing scientific, technical and economic challenges to understanding the social impacts on communities – we can help Britain’s industrial heartlands go faster and further on this vital journey.
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About the author
Professor Mercedes Maroto-Valer is UKRI Decarbonisation Champion and Director of IDRIC (UK Industrial Decarbonisation Research and Innovation Centre)