Industrial Decarbonisation Challenge director Bryony Livesey argues that the UK must place an industry-first, collaborative approach to decarbonisation at the heart of its ambitions to achieve net zero by 2050.
The UK’s major industrial clusters mapped out by BEIS in Scotland, Humberside, Merseyside, Teesside, South Wales and the Black Country, are formed of hundreds of manufacturers and energy producers who play a vital role in supporting our economy.
However, these very clusters are also responsible for emitting 40 million tonnes of carbon every year – the equivalent amount emitted by 9 million cars - or one-third of all business and industrial emissions.
For net zero goals to be achieved, these emissions cannot continue.
Transforming industrial processes
Together, we are transforming our ways of working. We are shedding outdated thinking and revolutionising our approach to industrial design and development, helping to protect the £320bn of exports and the 1.5 million jobs the clusters create.
This will involve the deployment of decarbonisation infrastructure and technology at scale, including carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS), and low carbon hydrogen.
Industry partners across the six clusters have matched 100s of millions of funding from UKRI to facilitate the decarbonisation of energy-intensive projects using these techniques and are already in the second phase of deployment to meet UK ambition to decarbonise four clusters by 2030.
This presents a marked difference from just a few years ago when industry confidence in the feasibility of cost-effective large-scale deployment of decarbonisation was low. The change in industry sentiment has been rewarded by an intensification of targets by the UK government which firmly places the UK as a world leader in addressing this challenge.
Green industrial revolution
The transition to net zero and the birth of the Green Industrial Revolution will require adaptation to new manufacturing and power production processes at a level that has not been seen since the early industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries.
This adaptation will require collaboration at every level, including a demonstrative effort in knowledge sharing and the development of skills required to match a decarbonised future.
This task is too great for any one business, which is why the IDC is working with partners across industry, government, and academia linked to UK’s major industrial clusters.
Shared infrastructure to save cost and attract investment
The development of decarbonisation infrastructure which is individual to one business, or even industry, is not an effective approach. This would be much more expensive and, ultimately, delay the decarbonisation of local industries which do not have access to this infrastructure – making net zero goals much harder to achieve.
Collaboration by multiple industries at an early stage of development ensures the needs of different sectors are met while supporting the growth of the economy as a whole.
The attraction of a ready-built network of decarbonisation infrastructure will also encourage foreign investment and industries that are seeking access to carbon storage. This in turn will further stimulate our economy – creating new jobs and opportunities and an environment that allows innovation to thrive.
Sharing best practice
This collaboration extends to the sharing of knowledge, best practice, and ideas in combination with joint investment. By sharing lessons learned within clusters and beyond, decarbonisation solutions can be implemented at the necessary speed and scale to meet the net zero challenge while building the relationships which will allow industry to be more adaptive and resilient.
Through funding from the IDC, the Industrial Decarbonisation Research and Innovation Centre (IDRIC) is collaborating with industrial, governmental, and academic organisations to accelerate research into decarbonisation to respond to challenges from industry.
Last year, IDRIC launched over 40 research and innovation projects, grouped into nine multidisciplinary integrated programmes, each addressing a key pathway to decarbonisation from system planning to infrastructure and large-scale deployment of decarbonisation technology.
Retaining and creating high skilled jobs
By creating a world where carbon-heavy industries become net zero, we will retain high-skilled, high-paying jobs within traditional industrial regions and create new opportunities as technology develops. There needs to be a conscious effort to develop and enhance skillsets so we can better prepare our industries for the transition and generate maximum value in the process.
As we reflect on the success of the last two years of the IDC it is clear that industry is capable of something it previously thought impossible. It is now time to build on this great work by continuing to support rapid decarbonisation across the UK.
There is a strong desire for industry to decarbonise, but this will only be possible if entities from all areas of the economy continue to work together. By driving down costs through collaboration, sharing knowledge, and developing the necessary skills, we will achieve the decarbonisation of industry in a cost-effective and timely manner.
In the 18th and 19th century the UK led the world in manufacturing and we have an opportunity to once again demonstrate that we are a world leader in industrial processes and development by delivering a Green Industrial Revolution driven by the strengths of British industry.
Our current trajectory is promising, but we still have a long way to go if we are to achieve our net zero targets. Ultimately, if we cannot fully decarbonise our industry, net zero will not be possible.
Bryony Livesey is challenge director for the Industrial Decarbonisation Challenge (IDC).