NEWCASTLE-based energy firm Five Quarter says its hugely ambitious Deep Gas Winning project could play a significant part in the economic regeneration of the North-East. Mark Tallentire reports.

MULTI-billion pound plans to harvest “green energy” from vast coal supplies buried deep beneath the North Sea could create thousands of jobs and play a significant part in the economic redevelopment of the North-East, it has been claimed.

Newcastle-based energy pioneers Five Quarter want to extract useful gases from below vast swathes of the North Sea stretching from Sunderland up to the Scottish border and CEO and chairman Harry Bradbury says drilling could begin within months.

Speaking exclusively to The Northern Echo, he said: “We hope this will play a significant part in the economic redevelopment of the North-East.”

Five Quarter’s plans combine cutting-edge science and industry on a grand scale.

From mobile drilling rigs sited along the North-East coast, it would use its breakthrough Deep Gas Winning (DGW) process to extract valuable gases from coal seams and surrounding shale buried between 250m and 2km below the sea, as far as 10km off shore.

These could then be processed at a purpose-built gas purification and separation plant, possibly at Blyth, in Northumberland, and either sent to petrochemical industries on Teesside or turned into low-carbon electricity at a new-build power plant.

Treasury officials are so impressed they have “pre-qualified” DGW for the UK Guarantee scheme, meaning while much of the £1bn needed must be borrowed on the markets, the project would be guaranteed by the UK Government.

This follows Five Quarter being awarded £15m from the Regional Growth Fund last May, one of the biggest ever hand outs from the cash pot.

Five Quarter have ten conditional licences from the UK Coal Authority covering the North Sea and negotiations are under way with coastal landowners, with a view to going operational within a few months.

Dr Bradbury said boreholes could be drilled by the summer and the firm was considering “three or four fixed locations on brownfield sites in key locations well away from urban areas and natural beauty points”.

Following a nine-month demonstration period, gas extraction would then be ramped up next year.

Meanwhile, crucial talks have begun with industry over its use and Dr Bradbury hopes to make a major announcement within a few weeks.

Construction of the power plant could take two-and-a-half years. Two potential sites are being considered.

More than 500 jobs could be created at the gas and power plants, with thousands more in the supply chain.

The new industry would utilise the North-East’s experience of oil and gas work and a charitable fund would be established to support former coal mining communities.

Five Quarter also has licences covering the Firth of Forth, Liverpool Bay and Solway Firth and could in future look to expand south of Sunderland, working off the County Durham coast.

Dr Bradbury said: “The unconventional gas sector is likely to play an increasingly significant part in the UK energy economy, as it has done in the US and will do in other countries.

“This is part of a move towards making use of our own natural resources, cutting down the costs of importing energy.”

Campaign group Frack Off has linked DGW to fracking and Underground Coal Gasification.

But Dr Bradbury said Five Quarter wanted to “proceed in an environmentally sound manner”, “embraces environmental controls” and would explain more about DGW at the “right stage”.

Wansbeck MP and former National Union of Mineworkers president Ian Lavery said the project had “tremendous potential” and he had no environmental concerns.

A Northumberland County Council spokesman said discussions had taken place with Five Quarter and while there were “no firm proposals”, it would work with interested stakeholders to consider relevant issues should proposals come forward.

How is it done?

Experts say Deep Gas Winning is rather like key–hole surgery. It involves the drilling of narrow boreholes (typically 8.5-inches in diameter) up to 2km below the seabed.

Oxygen and steam are injected into the boreholes which produces a reaction in the rocks which creates synthesis gas (‘syngas’)- hydrogen and carbon monoxide, plus methane and carbon dioxide. No other chemicals are used other than oxygen and steam.

The gases are collected and cleaned, with no emissions to the atmosphere at any stage.

The boreholes will be drilled many kilometres from any aquifers used for supplying water to humans, animals or agriculture.

The company claims that up to 90 per cent of the energy stored in the coal and neighbouring rocks can be reclaimed.

Who are Five-Quarter?

The Northern Echo:

Harry Bradbury, founder, CEO and chairman.

A Yale professor in geology aged 29, Bradbury also has a track record as a business entrepreneur (having started two successful technology companies) and as a consultant for clients including governments and financial institutions.

He led international and emerging markets teams for two of the world's largest global management consulting firms (Booz.Allen & Hamilton and AT Kearney), before becoming a managing partner with Deloitte.

Previously the founder and CEO of Chemex, the first environmental analysis group, which was listed on the London Stock Exchange and Intelligent Energy: a multi–award–winning fuel cell technology company spun out of Loughborough University (where he led the ENV project: the creation of the world’s first purpose–built hydrogen fuel cell motorcycle).

The Northern Echo:

Dermot Roddy, chief technology officer

Joined the company directly from Newcastle University, where he was Professor of Energy.

Bachelor and Doctorate degrees from Queen’s University, Belfast. Worked for ICI (overseeing the building and running of chemicals factories) and Petroplus International in Netherlands. 

Previous positions include being chairman of Northeast Biofuels; a director of the UK Hydrogen Association; the VP of the Northeast Electricity Companies Association and a Member of the Energy Leadership Council.

The Northern Echo:

Paul Younger, board director

An expert in hydrogeology and environmental engineering. Holds the distinguished Rankine Chair of Energy Engineering at Glasgow University.

Founder of the Newcastle University Institute for Research on Sustainability and the Sir Joseph Swan Institute for Energy.

He led the Newcastle University research team that won the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher Education in 2006 and was also a key player in the drive to make Newcastle a City of Science and Technology.

A former President of the North of England Institution of Mining and Mechanical Engineers and is a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering.

He holds Bachelors and Doctorate degrees from Newcastle University and has been a Harkness Fellow in the US.

He also holds honorary Doctorate degrees from Spanish and Latin American universities.

The Northern Echo:

Robert Young, board director

Currently holds several leading commercial directorships; is a non-executive Director of the Newcastle University Council and is a leading adviser on sustainable development. He holds degrees from Leicester and London Universities and an MBA from Manchester Business School.

The Northern Echo:

Chris Blaxall, chief financial officer

Holds chartered accounting qualifications from both the UK and Australia and is also Chairman of Carlton Manufacturing, a company he co-founded in 2011.