Air Products has started work on its second North-East factory, which bosses say will bolster the UK's energy sector. Deputy Business Editor Steven Hugill learns about the project's importance

AS angry grey clouds threatened overhead, David Taylor could have been forgiven if he was caught yearning for the warmth of his company's US base.

Air Products' home is in Pennsylvania, where average April temperatures can hover around 20C.

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But, bedecked in a reflective jacket and hard hat, and wielding a ceremonial spade, he couldn't have been happier in the North-East.

Neither could the company.

Mr Taylor, Air Products' energy business vice-president, was visiting the site that will form the second part of its regional energy development.

The advanced gasification plant in Billingham, near Stockton, will create 50 jobs, support about 750 construction posts and operate from 2016.

Bosses say it will take up to 350,000 tonnes of non-recyclable waste away from landfill every year, helping to power about 50,000 North-East homes.

The factory will sit alongside Air Products' sister and almost identical plant on land near the North Tees Chemical Complex, using plasma technology to generate energy by burning domestic and commercial waste.

The first power station will start operating later this year, creating another 50 jobs and supplying energy for another 50,000 homes, standing as one of the largest of its kind in the world.

The development is backed the Government's Energy for Growth scheme, which aims to save taxpayers' money by securing a fixed price on electricity from suppliers.

The Cabinet Office last year agreed a deal to buy power output from the second plant for the next 20 years, which ministers predict will save £97m and meet two per cent of the Government's overall energy consumption.

Mr Taylor told The Northern Echo the company's presence in the region was highly significant.

He said: “This second site is of great importance to us as a company because it continues our growth in an area that forms a major part of our operations.

“The factory will be largely similar to our first plant but the significant part here is we are going to supply the Cabinet Office under a long-term contract.

“We are very proud to contribute to that programme.

“When we are looking to sell our products, the aim is to work with creditable long-term partners and, by gosh, the don't get much better than the UK Government.”

Mr Taylor, who was joined by Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office, for the ground breaking event, said the North-East, and the legacy of ICI, was a vital component in its work.

He added: “We know the North-East, it's not a new area for us and we like being here.

“As a company, we've been in the UK for more than 50 years and know this region from our chemical operations on the old ICI site.

“The area has all the attributes we need.

“It's got good quality land and excellent road links for the waste to come in, so it ticks all the boxes.

“But we are also creating and supporting hundreds of jobs, which is fantastic, including the long-term technician roles needed to run the plant.

“That process of recruitment was only helped by the high skills present in the region from its ICI history.

“This is a business that we intend to be in for the long-term and this is a massive project and one of the largest investments we've made.

“We are really proud to be in the Tees Valley, happy to be part of its community, and look forward to operating here.”

Mr Maude said the plant was a key pillar in the Energy for Growth programme.

He added: “This is a world first and a very exciting process.

“We want to reduce emissions and dealing with waste that would otherwise be going to landfill is a very efficient process.

“It is also creating and supporting highly-skilled jobs too, which is great for the region.”