William discusses UKRI’s Industrial Decarbonisation programme’s commitment to supporting industries decarbonise and the role of industrial clusters to pave the path to net zero.
As net zero looms large on the horizon, heavy industry is naturally the focal point for measures to address the UK’s carbon reliance. Industrial clusters in particular hold the key to achieving the net zero targets in the next decade or more, but also offer an opportunity to generate revenue, jobs and wider societal benefits at the same time. UKRI has committed to supporting new innovations in the sector, so where exactly do the challenges and opportunities lie?
Many of the UK’s heavy industries are grouped together in relatively compact geographical areas, particularly around ports and estuaries that give access to trade and export opportunities. Nowadays, the largest six industrial clusters in the UK (Humberside, Teesside, Grangemouth, South Wales, Merseyside and Southampton) export goods and services worth around £320 billion to our economy annually and account for around 1.5 million jobs. These industrial clusters include a wide range of industries and infrastructure of national significance, such as refineries, cement and steel works, and chemicals plants.
Together, however, these industrial clusters also account for over 33 Mt of CO2 a year – a third of the total emissions footprint from UK industry and businesses combined. Notably, 13 of the 15 highest single point emission sites in the UK are within these clusters, accounting for 25 MtCO2 a year. It’s clear then that, in order to reach net zero, we must focus on transforming these complex industrial regions to achieve a truly low-carbon status.
In 2018, the Government’s Industrial Clusters Mission set a target of achieving one low-carbon cluster by 2030 and the world’s first net zero carbon industrial cluster by 2040. Since then, the amendment to the Climate Change Act (2019) and the legally binding net zero 2050 target led to a significant ramp-up in decarbonisation activity – in particular, the Prime Minister’s 10 Point Plan in November 2020. This set the ambitious target of capturing and storing 10MtCO2 by 2030 and investing £1 billion in Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) to support the roll-out in at least four industrial clusters. This represents a rapid acceleration in the UK’s ambition to drive net zero from industrial cluster heartlands, recognising the crucial role they play in this journey.
Tools at our disposal
In their 2019 annual report, the Climate Change Committee stated that net zero was unattainable without the widescale deployment of CCS. While affirming the 10MtCO2 capture target, they also recognised the role of deploying low-carbon hydrogen in parallel to CCS.
The UK has significant offshore CO2 storage potential (about 78Gt) on our continental shelf and four industrial clusters have access to viable offshore storage sites. This tremendous storage capacity is equivalent to the remaining EU-27 countries combined, and could theoretically serve both our domestic demand and the rest of Europe. In context, we must store between 75-175 MtCO2 a year by 2050 to attain net zero status, and therefore have hundreds of years of CO2 storage available to meet our demand. In combination with CCS projects at advanced stages of development and entering operation this decade, the UK has a strong potential to become a world leader in this technology.
It is also important to recognise that hydrogen offers a viable route towards decarbonising industrial processes, providing a low-carbon source of fuel. Hydrogen, produced from natural gas and deployed in parallel with CCS, will create scalable business models – first decarbonising industrial sites and then laying the foundations for broader regional hydrogen economies.
The Industrial Decarbonisation Challenge
The Industrial Decarbonisation Challenge (IDC) is investing £210 million into decarbonising industrial clusters and laying the foundations to deliver the first stages of low-carbon clusters by 2030. Further investment in CCS and low-carbon hydrogen technologies is also being provided to decarbonise multi-sector cluster projects. In parallel to these efforts for heavy industry, IDC will also aim to boost the competitiveness of key industrial regions and drive inwards investment that creates and protects jobs for a low-carbon industrial sector.
The projects in the IDC portfolio will account for nearly £0.5 billion of investment into industrial cluster decarbonisation, and will create ready-to-go projects – with final investment decisions being made in preparation for construction and operation in the 2020s.
To find out more, join us on the 20th July for the UKRI’s Sustainable Industry webinar that will discuss the role of industrial clusters in paving the path to zero carbon and the low-carbon technologies needed to increase the competitiveness of industry and contribution to UK’s drive for clean growth.
By Dr William Joyce, Innovation Technologist, Industrial Decarbonisation Challenge, UKRI.
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