AN engineering firm has built a £1m test centre to expand its hazardous materials division into the marine sector.

Alpha Process Controls, in Peterlee, east Durham, is extending work on emergency release couplings, which are used to move liquid nitrogen gas (LNG).

The company already specialises in making equipment to transfer chemicals, liquids and gases.

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The firm says its experience with onshore LNG transfers has allowed it to create couplings for ships in the marine sector.

The couplings can be used if two vessels drift apart, with the system closing down internal LNG valves at a controlled rate to reduce pressure.

Bosses said the plant uses a pressurised water system, comparable to LNG during a ship-to-ship transfer, ensuring couplings meet industry standards.

The centre is also capable of overhauling, re-testing and re-commissioning units.

John Lamb, Alpha Process Controls’ managing director, said: “The completion of the test centre is a core element of delivering our revolutionary LNG transfer systems to the energy industry.

“Alpha is in the minority of coupling makers able to provide these in-house test facilities, which, therefore, provides customers with a more comprehensive and cost-effective service.

“Our family of coupling systems meet the rigorous standards demanded by international maritime organisations and oil and gas companies, and we have created a solution in which operators can have the ultimate confidence.”

Alpha is a division of GT Group, which specialises in engine emission systems for global heavy-duty vehicle makers, and employs about 350 workers.

Geoff Turnbull, GT Group chairman, said: “Innovation and quality are hallmarks of all the GT Group’s businesses.

“Alpha Process Controls is at the forefront of delivering technology-led systems, which address the challenges of the growing international LNG market.”

Late last year, Mr Turnbull revealed a 50,000sq ft expansion for GT Group, which he said would allow it to build on an expected turnover rise of more than 35 per cent.

He added: “We are entering an exciting new phase, which is one of the most significant in the company's history, and will guarantee the longevity of the business for decades to come.

“Pundits keep writing off manufacturing as a dying industry, but our mega-expansion, our extremely healthy advance order book and the extent of our exports, puts paid to this myth.”