In Interview: Teesside University’s Professor David Hughes on Net Zero technologies, decarbonising Teesside’s industrial cluster, and how the university is enabling the transition.

Reading time: 5 minutes

Dr David Hughes is an Associate Professor at Teesside University's Centre for Sustainable Engineering. As the Teesside cluster, including Wilton International, pursues its goal of becoming the UK’s first decarbonised industrial cluster, we asked David about key Net Zero technologies, Teesside's sustainable future, and Teesside University's role in supporting industry's Net Zero transition.

On Delivering Net Zero

The UK has committed to decarbonising its electricity system by 2035 and delivering Net Zero emissions by 2050. To achieve these goals, what are the main challenges facing UK industry, including the Teesside cluster?

‘The main challenge is around the systems that enable businesses to work together. Decarbonisation is a complex project and needs to be considered at scale – at the level of cities or industrial clusters. Sustainable technology is constantly developing; for it to work in practice needs joint vision and strategy. ‘In an industrial cluster there needs to be sharing of energy and resources with co-visioning and co-working. No one business can afford to decarbonise on its own, it needs shared interaction and planning. It isn’t cost effective on a small scale.

‘Teesside is very well placed because companies and industrial sites have always collaborated on this level and are used to working together – they are ahead of the game because there is a shared vision and industrial symbiosis.’

On Carbon Capture, Usage & Storage (CCUS)

Where does CCUS fit in?

‘We need CCUS as an interim measure to get us to Net Zero by 2050. There will be no rapid scale up of hydrogen without CCUS and blue hydrogen (made from fossil fuel but with CCUS to remove the CO2). As well as needing time to scale up green hydrogen production, there’s also the issue of scaling up electricity supplies to meet demand from electrolysers, which are used to produce green hydrogen. CCUS also buys time for industrial processes where the move away from fossil fuels will take further design and development.

‘A combination of hydrogen and CCUS will enable Net Zero for Teesside and other industrial clusters. The University is working with stakeholders on various aspects of the CCUS project.’

How well positioned is Teesside to achieve its ambition of being the UK’s first decarbonised industrial cluster?

‘Teesside has existing infrastructure and expertise that will be invaluable in getting to Net Zero, including the hydrogen network, chemicals expertise and increasing renewable generation. The cluster is compact and there has always been great collaboration between businesses. The trans-Teesside service corridors make it easy to transport feedstocks between facilities. And the region’s geology, with large saline aquifers including ‘Endurance’ under the North Sea, make it the perfect location for CCUS.

On the Role of Hydrogen in Decarbonisation

How can Hydrogen help us to get to Net Zero?

‘Hydrogen is essential to get to Net Zero, giving us the potential to replace fossil fuels for industrial, domestic and transport applications.’

What problems need solving to build a successful hydrogen economy in the UK?

‘The next challenge in growing a hydrogen economy is to develop and share the full product specifications of hydrogen with potential users so they can examine properly how they can make the switch away from fossil fuels. Currently, companies wanting to switch to hydrogen do not have enough information about the potential purity, pressure, and temperature of the supplied feedstock to be able to move forward. At the same time, companies producing hydrogen need to be aware of industry needs when they formulate their product.

‘Teesside is ahead of the game as collaboration across the cluster means that there is already an understanding of both industry requirements and the capacity of the infrastructure.’

How important is Teesside’s existing hydrogen infrastructure in developing a hydrogen economy in the UK?

‘Teesside is already the hydrogen hub of England. 60% of the UK’s hydrogen is produced here and it is home to the UK’s only hydrogen pipeline. We’ve been pumping it around for years and understand how to handle it. With regards to creating, managing, and using it at scale, Teesside is the most advance hub in the UK and also in Europe. There is a shared system for hydrogen and the cluster understands how it can best be used.’

How do you see the future for hydrogen in Teesside?

‘There will be expansion of hydrogen generation – both blue, which is needed in the medium term, and green. The hydrogen ecosystem is already there with big projects in the pipeline and the potential to be a world leading hydrogen cluster.

On Support from Teesside University

How can industrial businesses seeking to decarbonise collaborate with Teesside University?

‘Teesside University’s Net Zero Industrial Innovation Centre (NZIIC) is a mechanism to enable business to access equipment and facilities at pilot scale, to help develop sustainable feedstocks, uses for hydrogen, uses for CO2, alternative energy sources, and other decarbonisation technologies. The centre has a great track record in co-collaboration with industrial partners on research and development and testing.’

‘NZIIC enables businesses to explore and evaluate new technologies. That can simply mean becoming aware of what’s possible, getting some hands-on experience through serious play events where you can actually come and work with some emerging technologies. Businesses can come and trial feedstocks or process variables in our pilot facilities across a range of sectors including hydrogen, CCUS, energy, circular economy and novel manufacturing and materials.

‘With regard to hydrogen, as well as working with companies on hydrogen generation and transport projects, we’re working with BEIS to develop new standards for hydrogen transportation via the existing gas network, which will be applied across the UK.’

Does the university have access to funding for joint Net Zero projects?

Yes. For SME’s our NZIIC project can directly support 3-6 months of a project which is 100% funded through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). We can also engage with both larger organisations and SMEs through a variety of other routes including contract research and joint funding. We have particular experience around Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) funding where we’ve been very successful and seen significant regional impacts.

Find out more about Teesside University’s Net Zero Industrial Innovation Centre (NZIIC)

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