The Tees Valley project is Western Europe’s most significant economic regeneration development and net zero infrastructure project. At 4,500 acres, it is six times the size of the City of London. Located on Britain’s North Sea coast, the multi-billion dollar development is a global case study for sustainable regeneration. It will see regional business and industry powered by an integrated energy system involving wind, solar, and hydrogen, with a world first carbon capture plant at its core.
Energy from the renewables and a new combined cycle power plant will fuel the giant Teesworks industrial site, Freeport, and regional businesses. As well as this, a pioneering hydrogen gas network, currently being trialled for scaling up, will provide further sustainable energy for industrial and residential use.
Ben Houchen, Mayor of the Tees Valley, is responsible for delivering the project that involves industrial, transport and energy infrastructure in addition to developing new green energy technologies and creating thousands of new jobs in sustainable industries across the region.
“Teesside is rapidly becoming a global hub for the development of net zero technologies,” Houchen says. “Major companies including BP, Shell, SeAH Wind, and other low carbon manufacturers are creating an innovation cluster that will allow us to decarbonise our local economy, contribute towards decarbonising the UK and ultimately export that technology around the world.
“We are creating a 21st-century manufacturing centre for generations to come where green industry, decarbonisation and sustainability will play a key role in the future of our economy.”
Sustainable regeneration in action
In the coming months, it is hoped that construction will begin on the £1.5 billion Teesside carbon capture and storage facility, a world-first development of a new fully integrated combined cycle gas-fired power plant. “All the carbon from the plant will be captured and pumped back under the North Sea into depleted oil caverns. A joint venture with BP, Shell and Equinor, the plant will be the nucleus of a clean energy network that will power other industries.
“Carbon capture allows for the transition to much more clean and sustainable forms of energy. Other industries will utilise the technology, including the nearby chemical fertiliser plant at Billingham. That single plant produces one per cent of the UK’s total CO2 emissions, so capturing and reducing that carbon will have a major impact.”
The fertiliser plant produces large volumes of ammonia, a feedstock for hydrogen production also underway on the Teesworks site. “BP is developing a 500-megawatt hydrogen electrolyser plant and building a blue hydrogen processing plant to make steam methane reformers, again using carbon capture. We’ve also got Protium, who are making green hydrogen, while at Teesside International Airport, we’re planning a solar farm to provide energy for the electrolysers. CCUS is not a panacea but part of a just transition to allow these truly sustainable green technologies to take effect.”
Also under construction is the world’s largest factory to manufacture monopiles, the seabed foundations that support offshore wind turbines. “The new SeAH Wind factory will support over 2,000 new well-paid jobs that will help deliver the green economy,” Houchen says. “And over coming weeks, we will announce further offshore wind investment that will create one of UK’s largest offshore wind clusters.”
Dozens of private organisations from across the world are interested in the net zero technologies being developed in Tees Valley. “We’ve had significant interest from major global investors,” Houchen says. “We’ve played host to delegations from North America, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the Emirates. Qatar is particularly interested in carbon capture due to their gas reserves, and they’re keen to protect the income they rely on but do it sustainably. They’re also interested in our hydrogen production and distribution processes. If our technologies are shown to work in Teesside, they will be adopted globally.”
The value of sustainability
The Tees Valley is in the top six of 20 UK hotspots with the highest net zero-related jobs that contributes £71bn (3.7 per cent) to the UK economy. According to the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, the region currently supports around 15,000 net zero jobs that generate over £1.6bn in gross value added (GVA) revenue, with employment and GVA figures forecast to more than double in the next decade. According to CBI Economics, sustainability jobs are vital to growth as the total gross value added by businesses involved in the net zero economy is more than twice that of the traditional energy sector.
“Thousands of new jobs are being created across the Tees valley in construction, renewable energy, new technologies, supply chain and services in a wide range of sectors, and many more will be needed to support new fast-rising sustainable industries,” Houchen says.
And while employment is rising, CO2 emissions are falling. “We’ve reduced our overall carbon emissions by 50 per cent in the past ten years, but we are still the second largest carbon-emitting region in the country due to existing heavy industry. However, this will change with significant reductions in 18 months’ time when the combined cycle power plant is completed and in five years when the wider benefits of our renewable networks and net zero industries will be apparent.
“The infrastructures we’re creating will allow us to not only decarbonise our economy and contribute to a wider low-carbon UK but, by exporting the technologies we produce worldwide, we will create more employment. Circularity, in its range of forms, is the key to a sustainable future.”
This circular approach is highlighted by the region’s automotive industry developments, now producing electric vehicles. Following the discovery of significant lithium reserves used in electric vehicle batteries, Europe’s largest lithium hydroxide refinery will be located in the area, with the £248 million zero-waste plant creating over 1,000 new jobs.
Managing a multi-billion pound net zero project
Houchen and his team oversee a massive development involving energy, industry and transport infrastructure, investment and housing, bringing together hundreds of businesses while dealing with many different agencies, regulators and authorities. Numerous organisations are involved, and large volumes of paperwork and bureaucracy must be managed and delivered to the highest standard. It is project management on a vast scale and requires a wide range of diplomatic skills.
“No one person can do it,” Houchen says. “We have a fantastic team driving the project from the Tees Valley Combined Authority to the South Tees Development Corporation, an excellent blend of people with deep knowledge and experience in the private and public sectors. We have direct access to the central government and 10 Downing Street, and our priority unlocks many doors that allow us to move forward with the least delay. Between political alignment and the great team we have working on the development, everybody’s pulling in the right direction.
“Ultimately, it’s about doing it all in a managed way that creates investment and new jobs and keeps everyone on board with the net zero agenda. People will only support what we’re doing if they can see that it’s good for themselves, their communities, and the planet.”
With hundreds of millions already spent and multi-billions of inbound investment to manage, Mayor Houchen has a busy time ahead. “A lot has, and is, being achieved in terms of economic regeneration, and there’s still further to go on our journey to net zero, but the huge sums being invested by major corporations, the commitment from the UK government and the worldwide interest generated by our activities shows that we’re on the right track – and the right side of history.”