Black Country Industrial Cluster

Black Country Industrial Cluster

Overall emissions

  • 1.3 megatonnes CO2 equivalents annually

Key sectors

  • Iron and steel processing
  • Manufacturing, particularly fabricated metal products, automotive manufacturing and food and beverage

Geographic spread

  • 3,500 energy-intense manufacturing businesses spread across the four metropolitan areas of Wolverhampton, Walsall, Sandwell and Dudley.
  • Embedded in a wider community of over 30,000 businesses across a 140m2 radius

Black Country Cluster: density of companies in key sectors across the Black Country. Source – Black Country Consortium

Economic scale

3,500 manufacturing businesses account for nearly £8bn in annual turnover, employing 65,000 people and contributing 10% of GVA in the Black Country. Metal processing is biggest sector of local economy, sustaining more than 24,000 jobs.

Dr Jonathan Radcliffe, University of Birmingham, Black Country Cluster

Our Academic Cluster Leads provide strategic input and connectivity with the industrial clusters and act as a bridge between the research community and activities within the clusters.

Dr Jonathan Radcliffe

Dr Jonathan Radcliffe is a Reader in Energy Systems and Innovation at the University of Birmingham; and leads the ‘Resilient Cities’ theme of the university‘s Institute for Global Innovation. His research focuses on policy and techno-economic analysis of energy systems in the context of a wider socio-technical transition. He is investigator on several major research projects, covering the integration of energy storage and heat pumps in local energy systems, and on infrastructure for industrial decarbonisation. Jonathan is a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee for UKRI’s Energy Programme, and was Advisor to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee on Clean Growth Technologies

What is the high-level vision for the net-zero cluster?

Within the next 10 years, the cluster aims to reduce industrial carbon emissions by 1.3 megatonnes of CO2. It aims to enable clean GVA growth of £16bn by 2030, creating or safeguarding at least 20,000 skilled jobs.

Repowering the Black Country will create the physical and organisational infrastructure which enables the Black Country Zero Carbon Industrial Cluster Vision to become a reality.

This includes a network of Zero Carbon industrial hubs. They will be built around anchor industrial processes and supported by complementary flexible manufacturing as well as service operations and cost-effective Zero Carbon energy infrastructure.

The project will create mini-clusters of zero carbon industry across the region in multiple industrial sectors by proactively using local authority planning powers and inward investment – reshoring activities which have drifted overseas over the past three decades – to create strategically-selected circular economy zero-carbon industrial hubs.

What is unique about your cluster?

  • The Black Country is the only non-coastal cluster
  • Most businesses are SMEs
  • Industry is often co-located or integrated into residential areas, making it challenging to manage industrial and domestic energy demand separately
  • Small scale and dispersed nature of the businesses means that role of hydrogen and CCS will depend on the development of infrastructure and technology cost reductions
  • Electrification is a viable option for many manufacturing businesses
  • Black Country Cluster’s industrial base is more flexible and re-configurable than clusters based around one or two single large operations
  • Decarbonising Black Country will enable a model for wider decarbonsiation across UK, outside the core-clusters
  • Difficulty storing CO2 opens opportunities to focus on CCU, for example in concrete curing, novel cements, polymer production and horticulture

What are the key research and innovation challenges in your cluster?

Research and innovation will enable us to:

  • Develop technology to enable and improve small-scale onsite and inland renewable energy generation, carbon capture and storage, hydrogen generation and energy storage
  • Explore non-pipeline transport (NPT) options for hydrogen and CO2 to and from coastal clusters, including the use of ammonia for hydrogen shipping and associated conversion processes
  • Support the development of appropriate business models for non-pipeline transport (NPT) for both CCS export and H2/NH3 import to inland industries
  • Design negative emissions technologies for onsite local carbon capture and use
  • Model systems and scenarios to consider the deployment of industrial pathways to net zero in the context of the UK’s levelling up agenda
  • Assess how approaches to carbon emissions monitoring, developed by individual clusters, could be integrated and implemented as a generalisable framework to incentivise growth of decarbonised industry in the UK
  • Understand the dynamics of decarbonisation in dispersed industrial sites and outside the clusters: for example, the potential for planned or unplanned migration and re-configuration of energy intense supply chains

What work is IDRIC already doing with your cluster?

IDRIC’s projects to support decarbonisation in the Black Country are informing the design of new infrastructure and systems to provide low-carbon fuels and heat to industry, away from the main clusters in a ”dispersed cluster”. They are exploring how mid-sized industries such as steel and manufacturing can utilise oxygen synthesised as a co-product of green hydrogen production and are understanding how local politics can shape industrial decarbonisation policy.

This is just a snapshot of the projects we’re funding to support the region; our full portfolio of projects with the Black Country is below:

This project will examine both the policy mixes and governance dynamics of industrial decarbonisation in the UK. It will pursue three integrated outputs:

  • A series of reviews looking at the sociotechnical policy aspects of industrial decarbonisation, especially the difficulties of, and types of policy instruments for, iron and steel, cement, chemicals, oil refining, food and drinks, pulp and paper, glass, and ceramics;
  • Producing an institutional and policy mix mapping for the six geographic UK clusters, and assessing how these meet various criteria, including consistency, coherence and credibility;
  • Examining the governance dilemmas of large-scale CCUS projects through the lens of project management and megaprojects, applied to five of the six clusters.

This project focuses on the design of new infrastructure and systems to provide low-C fuels and heat to industry, away from the main clusters

Industry emissions away from the six clusters account for c. 50 MtCO2, just over half of all emissions from the sector. In industry, 47% (8.5 Mtoe) of energy demand is met by natural gas, predominantly for high and low temperature processes and drying/separation, so the associated emissions will not be directly affected by electricity decarbonisation.

To meet net-zero commitments these emissions, dispersed across the UK, need to be addressed. The appropriate supply-side option will be dependent on the use case and local context, but this data is scarce.

Gas Compression (GC) and Industrial Thermal Processing (ITP) are two major and often co-located CO2 emission hot spots within industrial clusters (ICs), contributing >5MT CO2/year to UK emissions. Both GC and ITP processes in ICs are highly energy-intensive and inefficient.

Industrial decarbonisation policy seeks to address a number of technical and economic challenges in reducing industrial emissions. However, like all policy it is also the outcome of a political process, and creates new political dynamics.

Interest groups form coalitions to deploy ideas to try to influence outcomes, constrained or enabled by the institutional context for policy making. A range of actors have diverse interests in industrial decarbonisation policy, including: foundation industries; new technology firms; fuel, technology and infrastructure providers (e.g. in areas such as CCUS, hydrogen, bioenergy); consumers, taxpayers and workers, both in general and in particular regions. In theory, government seeks to balance these interests in designing policy; in practice policy will also reflect the political importance of different interests and how organised and effective interest groups are in putting their views.

At the same time, policy outcomes distribute resources and powers across these groups, and through path-dependence help create pathways of decarbonisation. These developments can in turn create political risks.

The world-leading UK national CO2 storage database CO2Stored provides freely available detailed information on more than 570 prospective storage units around the UK. The database has been the starting point for all recent public-private and industry storage capacity appraisals. It provides the first, significant step to industry and researchers to inform their plans for UK-wide industrial decarbonisation by CCUS.

The Energy Institute held a hydrogen energy transition workshop with stakeholders in hydrogen production, storage and distribution, which identified the following needs to facilitate the large-scale deployment of a hydrogen energy system:

The relative lifecycle analysis of hydrogen value chain options, both for:

  • energy intensity and associated CO2 emissions
  • wider feedstocks and emissions

The basis for making a demonstration of safety (a ‘safety case’) for facilities and operations in the foreseeable hydrogen value chain.

These needs were further scoped into three research projects.

UK clusters are major consumers of industrial oxygen gas, in particular steel producers, chemical plants and general manufacturing. Currently, the global £44billion oxygen market is growing 4-5% annually and deep decarbonisation technologies can be key suppliers. Hence, the main challenge this project is focusing on is innovative solutions for utilisation of co-produced oxygen to enable deep decarbonisation to fully benefit from the benefit of water electrolysis.

The Industrial Decarbonisation Challenge (IDC) was set up to accelerate innovation and deployment of low carbon technologies and associated infrastructure while simultaneously stimulating economic growth within a wide variety of industrial sectors. The industrial clusters are significant hubs of economic strength both within their local communities and nationally. It is important that the significant reduction in carbon emissions required to achieve net zero maintains or increases this economic activity both during and after the transition. The technologies behind decarbonisation routes for industry are largely understood and at high technology readiness levels. The critical information that is needed to build investor confidence and transition to these low carbon technologies, is to understand which combination of these technologies and underpinning infrastructure offers the best economic benefits in the long term, when coupled to the transitioning energy system.

The Energy Institute held a hydrogen energy transition workshop with stakeholders in hydrogen production, storage and distribution, which identified that there are insufficient suitably qualified/certified technicians, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, control and instrumentation engineers, project managers and other front line staff to cater for a transition from a petroleum based energy sector to a hydrogen based energy sector. In addition, there lacks the required competence profiles for the comparable roles, and suitable training to facilitate re-skilling against those profiles.

The purpose of this project is to enable development of the core and supply chain workforce needed to deliver Industrial Decarbonisation across the UK’s Industrial Clusters. This goal will be achieved through establishing a mechanism whereby the skills requirement can be determined and by promoting pathways to realising these skills. This process will not only help deliver a prepared workforce for the industrial clusters but will drive supply chain development and form a coherent community between Government, academia, training providers and industry. It will also afford a skills mechanism which may be exploited to the benefit of other industrial grand challenge areas.