A bright and green future in the North East - Business Works

A bright and green future in the North East

Giant turbine blade

A dvanced manufacturing in new industries is at the heart of this economy in the North East and there have been two major announcements in 2010. First came the start of work on Clipper Windpower’s new factory, which will ultimately create more than 500 new jobs on a former shipyard on the banks of the Tyne. This will be the base for the ‘Britannia Project’, a 10MW offshore wind turbine prototype which is among the largest wind turbines under development in the wind industry, with blades 72m long and weighing over 30 tonnes – each.

Nissan then announced that it would manufacture its revolutionary all-electric car, the Nissan LEAF, at its Sunderland plant. The news followed the company’s decision to base its advanced lithium-ion battery plant at Sunderland, work on which started just a few weeks ago. The production of the LEAF and the batteries represents a total investment of more than £420m by Nissan and is expected to maintain about 2250 jobs at Nissan and across the UK supply chain.

These headline announcements happened for a reason – and happened because partners in the region had spent the previous decade preparing to transform “green issues” into genuine business opportunities. It has been clear for some time that the entire world will have to embrace the low-carbon economy – the challenge for the North East was to identify the areas of this economy in which we could excel.

The first area was offshore wind and in 2002 One North East created the New and Renewable Energy Centre (Narec) in Blyth, Northumberland to attract global companies to come the region and use the centre’s expertise and facilities to develop their products. Since then, the scale of the opportunities for the UK in this industry has become clear to all and it is now expected to create an estimated 70,000 UK jobs in the next 15 years – with enormous opportunities for companies in the supply chain.

Meanwhile Narec has become a major international facility which in the past year has attracted more national funding than at any other time in its history. A series of major projects will soon give the centre a complete offering to companies in the sector which will include:

  • the largest wind turbine blade test facility in the world;
  • the largest offshore wind turbine drive train test rig in the world;
  • an £18.5 million offshore wind test site for the next generation of turbines.

Clipper Windpower has taken advantage in recent years of the facilities at Narec and subsequently chose to base its new factory on the banks of the River Tyne, which is one of a series of ready-made development sites in the North East identified to house offshore and marine-related industries. These new jobs will reinvigorate what were previously shipyards, not just on Tyneside, but also at Blyth and on the River Tees and the River Wear.


Another reason the North East is so attractive to companies in this sector is that the region is also ideally located for access to Dogger Bank, which will be home to the UK’s largest offshore wind farm, outlined in Round Three of the Crown Estate’s programme.

The aim of all the public sector investment is to create new jobs for the people of the region – and also to provide companies with a workforce that has the skills that their businesses need. In this way, the UK’s first Wind Turbine Training Tower was created - an open access facility, designed for both academic and industrial training programmes for technicians working in the wind industry and at height.

For the same reason, the North East will also be the home to the UK’s new Skills Academy for Sustainable Manufacturing and Innovation – a national facility that will train up to 2500 people a year specifically in the low carbon vehicles industry. It will be based near the Nissan plant in Sunderland and will offer training to students and to those already working in the car industry.

This Skills Academy will be a world-class training facility for employers, apprentices and students and will give 26,000 people in the North East’s automotive industry access to the skills training needed to work in the low carbon vehicle sector. It will serve the UK car industry for generations to come.

Manufacturing at Nissan and at other North East companies, including Smith Electric Vehicles, AVID Vehicles and Elecscoot, is being supported by the creation of a world-class charging infrastructure by One North East, which is in the process of installing 1300 electric vehicle charging points across the region. These are going in at locations ranging from garden centres and hotels to new housing developments and supermarkets, giving drivers the confidence to switch to low carbon transport and the comfort of knowing that there is always a charging point nearby.

Dozens of regional companies and organisations have pledged more than £1m of their own money to install charging points at their premises. The enthusiasm shown for this project in the region has led to One North East leaving open a fund for firms who want to install charging points at their premises at just half the normal cost.

Further to this network of charging points, the North East has been named the UK’s Low Carbon Economic Area for Ultra Low Carbon Vehicles, which is being delivered by One North East and will include:

  • the National Low Carbon Vehicle Research and Development Centre;
  • an open access test track to trial the use of new technologies;
  • the £70m Turbine Business Park for companies in the industry.

Electric vehicle

Nissan and the low carbon vehicles sector in general is a perfect example of how the industries of today are preparing for tomorrow.

Another area of vital importance to the North East economy is the chemicals and process sector on Teesside, which is beginning to make the transition to new low-carbon processes and industrial biotechnology.

Following recommendations from industry, a new £12m open-access industrial biotechnology demonstration facility is being built at the Wilton complex on Teesside with a ten-tonne demonstration capacity. This will expand the capability of the existing one-tonne National Industrial Biotechnology Facility (NIBF) at the complex. It will be tailored to supporting companies and researchers to develop new products, including sustainable bio-fuels, speciality chemicals and materials using biological feed stocks.

One company working in this area in the North East is INEOS Bio, which has launched a feasibility study for a plant to convert household and commercial waste into road transport fuel and clean electricity. The study includes detailed engineering design work for a plant at the company’s Seal Sands site in the Tees Valley and will inform an investment decision for a commercial INEOS Bio bio-ethanol and bio-energy plant.

Another area in which the region is looking to lead the way is in the development of a Carbon Capture and Storage Cluster (CCS) - pioneering technology which offers major investment and job creation potential. CCS is necessary for a number of industrial processes to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and is particularly vital in North East England due to the presence of the Chemical and Process Industries, which employ an estimated 26,000 people across the region.

As well as safeguarding vital jobs and creating new roles in research and innovation, CCS is central to proposed major power generation projects. These include a new power plant for Eston Grange in the Tees Valley and a part-conversion of the Rio Tinto Alcan power plant at Lynemouth, Northumberland, which together could capture up to 7.5m tonnes of CO2 per year.

Alongside these major schemes taking place in the region, a number of smaller-scale community projects are taking place, one of which includes a £1.85m project demonstrating how farmers can convert farm waste into energy. An anaerobic digester, which converts manure from pigs and cattle into green energy, has now been installed at Cockle Park Farm, near Morpeth and is helping hundreds of land-based businesses and food industry companies find out how waste can be used to produce heat, electricity and organic fertilizer.

While it is right to focus on the industries that will help the region reap the benefits of the upturn for decades to come, there is also significant support available for businesses to secure access to finance and thrive in the short-term. One of the most popular initiatives is a £125m ‘super fund’ aimed at supporting hundreds of businesses which will help lead the North East’s economic recovery.

The Finance for Business North East Fund will underpin the growth of business start-ups, technology-based companies and growing smaller businesses, helping to create jobs and prosperity for the region through targeted loans and equity investments. Over the next five years, it will support up to 850 small- and medium-sized North East companies, with the aim of creating more than 5000 jobs.

The fund is the first of its type in the UK and represents an exciting new era in publicly backed venture capital in the North East economy, for which the future looks both bright and green.

For more information:
t: 0191 229 6200
w: www.onenortheast.co.uk

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