North West Industrial Cluster

North West Industrial Cluster

Overall emissions

  • 16.7 megatonnes of CO2 equivalents per year from industrial emissions.

Key sectors

  • Oil refining (main polluter)
  • Chemicals 
  • Glass, cement, food
  • Automotive
  • Biomass and energy from waste facilities

Geographic spread

The cluster covers the traditional industrial powerhouses of the Liverpool and Manchester City Regions, as well as Cheshire and Warrington, and works with partners in Lancashire, Cumbria and North Wales.

Map of North West Cluster. Source: Net Zero North West

Economic scale

341,000 people are currently employed in the manufacturing sector in the North West. The Net Zero North West Economic Prospectus projects that 660,000 jobs could be secured or created by 2040.

Associate Professor Kirstie Simpson, University of Chester, North West Cluster Lead

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.

Kirstie Simpson is an Associate Professor within Chester Business School at the University of Chester, Kirstie has overall responsibility for colleagues engaged in strategic economic development. Alongside her academic role as Deputy Dean, she oversees a number of significantly-sized externally funded projects, totalling almost £40m. More recently Kirstie’s work has focussed on the Industrial Decarbonisation Challenge and the requirement and importance of the development of skills throughout the decarbonisation supply chain.
Kirstie is chair of the Skills, Learning and Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) subcommittee for the HyNet project and is therefore leading the charge in the North West for a more inclusive and diverse decarbonisation workforce. Kirstie is very keen on maximising academic – stakeholder interaction; enhancing these relationships to create flexible and accessible learning opportunities for students and at the same time, helping industry develop the skills for their future workforce. This includes things like the use of learning mobility and the co-creation of live projects to solve real industry problems.

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

Bringing together business, regional leaders and academia, the Net Zero North West (NZNW) is an industry-led cluster organisation acting as a public and private sector investment accelerator for industrial decarbonisation and clean growth projects in the North West.

The NZNW Economic Investment Prospectus sets out a £206bn investment case for a pipeline of long-term and shovel ready green investment projects, creating the UK’s first net zero region by 2040. The cluster’s vision is to save 38.5 mega-tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, turbocharge the UK economy by £285bn GVA, and safeguard or create over 660,000 jobs.

What is unique about your cluster?

  • The North West has a diverse mix of low carbon electricity generation through wind, biomass, tidal, solar, nuclear and hydrogen.
  • The cluster has a UK leading carbon capture and storage project, underpinning decarbonised hydrogen and ammonia projects. It was selected for Track 1 CCUS Cluster Sequencing Process to share £1bn for deployment of CCS in the region
  • The cluster already has gas storage and has the potential for hydrogen storage. This includes geographical assets such as the Irish Sea gas fields for CCS and Cheshire salt caverns for hydrogen storage.
  • The cluster are developing a blue-print for smart grids and peer to peer trading.
  • The North West has the largest concentration of advanced manufacturing and chemical production in the UK

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

Research and innovation will enable us to:

  • Carry out effective life cycle analysis to ensure decarbonisation is real and sustainable
  • Understand the legislation required to enable supply chains for low-carbon solutions to be developed
  • Support the off-shore CCS safety case by validating theoretical models assessing the behaviour of CO2 escaping from sub-sea pipelines
  • Investigate possible chemical reactions between impurities within the CO2 during transport, as theoretical work has indicated these could result in undesirable by-products
  • Assess the role of local energy networks across all energy vectors to understand their role in both decarbonising the energy network and managing costs more effectively
  • Support an economic case for “Levelling Up” in the North West through investment in the green industrial revolution

What work is IDRIC already doing with your cluster?

With the North West’s focus on the UK’s Levelling Up agenda, IDRIC is funding projects which explore how the decarbonisation of the cluster affects local communities. We are also running multiple projects to support the deployment of hydrogen systems at scale and to enable the skills needed for the industrial decarbonisation supply chain.

This is just a snapshot of the projects we’re funding to support the region; our full portfolio of projects with the North West 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.

Industrial strategy and climate policy goals for decarbonisation must not come at the expense of social and environmental justice for communities and workers.
IDRIC Project MIP 2.4 aims to contribute new insights and approaches to advancing a ‘just transition’ in the UK to ensure the costs and benefits of industrial decarbonisation are distributed fairly.

Sense of place is a geographical concept that encompasses the branding of spatial areas, as well as the lived experience and place attachments of local communities. This project will investigate how the process of decarbonisation involves transformations to the sense of place of industrial areas, based on the recognition that industrial decarbonisation is inherently a contested place-making process.

In so doing, this project seeks to produce an integrative framework guiding a socially acceptable, place-based process of decarbonisation and path to net zero emissions that will positively impact UK industrial clusters and offer guidance for decarbonisation elsewhere.

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.

To accelerate industrial decarbonisation at scale, low carbon technologies (including carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS) and Hydrogen production) require a strong social licence to operate (SLO).

SLO refers to the level of support for projects and technologies assembled to deliver industrial decarbonisation in the region. High levels of SLO are achieved when projects are seen as credible and legitimate, and depend on establishing trust between society and those responsible for delivering and regulating projects. Thus, it is important to understand specific contexts and past events which will influence the evolving social licence in each region.

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 utilization of hydrogen as a fuel is one way to enable the decarbonisation of industrial clusters and domestic heating. This project responds to this opportunity by assessing the potential for subsurface storage of hydrogen in rocks, thereby avoiding the requirement for surface storage facilities.

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.

Useful Links

Deployment project and roadmap: Net Zero NW

Other useful links: