UK’s hydrogen powerhouse leads the way to clean growth for process industries

The North East is the UK’s leading hydrogen hub, with two major blue hydrogen projects shortlisted for support from the government’s £1bn Infrastructure Fund.

The large-scale projects – both in Tees Valley – are Kellas Midstream’s H2NorthEast development and bp’s H2Teesside, part of The Northern Endurance Partnership’s East Coast Cluster.

They are included in Phase-2 of the Carbon Capture Usage and Storage Cluster (CCUS) Sequencing Process, announced by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy.

This means the North East now has considerably more hydrogen projects than anywhere else in the country. It’s the only cluster shortlisted for the two blue hydrogen projects, and is also home to the UK’s largest independently owned hydrogen production plant run by BOC, along with several ongoing green hydrogen projects.

Philip Aldridge, CEO of The North East of England Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC), praised the news, saying: “The BEIS Phase-2 announcement is excellent news for our region and really cements the North East as the hydrogen hub of the UK and a global ‘Super Place’ for hydrogen.”

“Almost half of the UK’s Carbon Capture Storage (CCS) projects are based in the North East, which demonstrates our commitment to lead on CCUS initiatives.

“Not only will this create thousands of jobs and attract investment across the local landscape, but it’s also a huge step in the future distribution of low-carbon power that will be essential to the long-term sustainability of many businesses throughout the area.”

NEPIC recently hosted a Green Growth Conference about decarbonisation opportunities and challenges for local process industries. Chris Holt, clean growth manager, talks to Chemical Industry Journal about how ‘super hub’ status could shape the future for its 300-plus company member.

Tell us about NEPIC

The North East of England Process Industry Cluster is a cluster organisation that represents and supports the process industries in the North East. NEPIC does this by networking its members together to create meaningful partnerships that deliver growth. NEPIC also helps drive forward the transition to Net Zero by collaborating to produce regional decarbonisation roadmaps, facilitating knowledge transfer, and by launching technical projects to construct new sustainable supply chains on Teesside.

How / why has the North East become a global ‘super place’ for hydrogen?

Teesside is already the UK ‘super place’ for hydrogen with BOC producing over half of the UK’s total hydrogen. Currently, it is the only industrial cluster within the UK that has a hydrogen pipeline. Teesside is also a highly concentrated cluster, with the main industrial operations taking place within a five-mile radius. Due to the density of energy-intensive industrial assets, existing supporting infrastructure, and a skilled industrial workforce, Teesside is an excellent place for large-scale industrial decarbonisation. This is especially true for blue hydrogen which is akin to outsourced carbon capture, which would likely have limited economic or environmental viability outside of an industrial cluster.

What does the East Coast Cluster represent?

The East Coast Cluster has the Northern Endurance Partnership at its core, which involves the sequestration, transport and storage of carbon dioxide produced by the Teesside and Humberside industrial clusters. Within this, it contains projects for carbon capture with low-carbon power production, blue hydrogen manufacturing and existing industrial assets.

How many blue / green hydrogen initiatives are currently underway in the region?

On Teesside, Kellas Midstream and bp’s blue hydrogen projects were shortlisted as part of the BEIS Phase-2 cluster sequencing process, twice as many as any other industrial cluster in the UK. BOC were also successful with their application to convert their existing grey hydrogen plant to produce blue hydrogen via the East Coast Cluster. Teesside will also be a green hydrogen hub with companies such as bp, EDF Renewables UK and Protium all having projects to manufacture green hydrogen.

When will large-scale production start in any of the projects?

Many projects aim to decarbonise existing assets and operations, which will be done as soon as they can connect with the carbon capture infrastructure or access blue hydrogen. A good example of this is the BOC hydrogen plant that is already producing grey hydrogen and will switch to blue hydrogen once the plant is integrated with the carbon capture infrastructure.

When will production start, and how much power is likely to be generated?

Blue hydrogen production will start at the bp and Kellas Midstream sites in 2027, with the ambition for each site to scale to 1 GW at around 2030. The timelines for the green hydrogen sites differ and so do the final planned scales of operation.

For example, the Protium green hydrogen project aims to produce ~70 MW of green hydrogen by 2026, with the first phase of the project taking place in 2025. There is also more flexibility regarding scale, for example the bp HyGreen Teesside could scale to 500 MW in the future. Regarding CCS power projects, the Whitetail Clean Energy project will produce around 350 MW of power and the Net Zero Teesside Power project will produce up to 860 MW of power.

How many jobs could be created – are you confident that the skills are available?

Given the number of different projects it is difficult to accurately estimate the total number of jobs that could be created, the Net Zero Teesside project alone could create 5,500 direct jobs during construction. Sourcing the skilled workforce necessary to deliver large and transformative projects is always a challenge but Teesside is already very well placed in this area due to its already significant industrial operations. NEPIC have also been working to support the cluster to meet the challenge of skills, most recently via skills surveys to understand the training needs of industry.

How optimistic are you about the short / long-term prospects for the industry?

I’m very optimistic. Decarbonisation is a massive challenge for industry, but it has proven to be an opportunity to grow industrial operations and create jobs. A multitude of new manufacturing sites have been announced on Teesside over the past year or so including Tees Valley Lithium, Alfanar’s Lighthouse Green Fuels plant, Circular Fuels and Peak Resources. There are also many more sites within the pipeline for Teesside. The need to decarbonise has also helped secure existing industrial assets; for instance, the opportunity to operate the world’s first decarbonised cracker is often cited as the reason that SABIC’s UK operations were secured.

What is the single biggest challenge?

It is an understatement to say that the road to Net Zero will be long, complex, and challenging. It is essential that decarbonisation initiatives maintain strong support from key stakeholders and government to deliver Net Zero. Commercial viability is at the heart of this and utilising economics as a tool to drive forwards Net Zero is the single biggest challenge and opportunity. A decrease in government support for decarbonisation is a substantial risk that would severely reduce the ability of industry to meet this challenge.

What key messages came out of NEPIC’s recent Clean Growth Conference?

For me, the key message was the unprecedented demand to attend from delegates and exhibitors, which highlighted the level of interest there is to take advantage of decarbonisation as an opportunity to achieve Clean Growth. The level of discussion and engagement between talks also showed the interest and willingness to collaborate to achieve this.

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