WHEN Teesside gained a freeport in the spring, it was given a great opportunity – not only to boost high skilled jobs and inward investment, but also to lead the way in sustainability.

It’s clear from the announcement of GE Renewables’ wind turbine blade factory and the emergence of the Net Zero Teesside group that we’re moving in the right direction, especially as the region has also welcomed Nissan’s announcement of a new battery ‘gigafactory’.

The Government’s commitment to reach net zero – the balance between carbon added to the atmosphere versus that taken away – by 2050 is an ambitious one which needs to be taken seriously. The Prime Minister has also called for national emissions to be reduced by 78 per cent in the next 14 years.

The Teesside freeport could play a crucial role in meeting those targets, and what’s more, it could earn significant national and international attention for doing so.

There are some interesting ways to make this happen.

Shore power is one of them. This is the process of providing electrical power to ships that are docked, so that diesel-hungry engines can be switched off to significantly reduce emissions. At the moment there are no large-scale shore power connections in the UK. That’s primarily down to cost, but as the Tees Valley Mayor has shown a capability for securing Government funding for “levelling-up” initiatives this could be on his to-do list.

If we had good quality and reliable shore power to offer, we’d encourage operators to bring hybrid ships to our freeport. Much like road-going hybrid vehicles, these ships can plug in to recharge lithium-ion batteries that power electric propulsion motors.

For example, international mining firm Anglo American will ship its game-changing polyhalite fertiliser – mined at the Woodsmith site in the North York Moors – from the freeport on Teesside. The mineral has fantastic environmental credentials and promises to boost world food production in a sustainable way. Imagine if Anglo American could also deliver it around the world in a more carbon friendly way – setting the benchmark for shipping of other commodities. Giving them the means to do so from Teesside would encourage others to follow suit.

On Teesside, there’s also space to make energy storage a reality. This is a significant advantage over other freeports which don’t have the land available to accommodate large battery sites. There are also technologies such as seawater heat pumps that extract the energy from seawater for use in nearby buildings.

Many of the shipowners we work with at North are starting to consider how biofuels such as hydrogen could be used with their vessels. This could be a big opportunity for the freeport – with the International Maritime Organization’s ambitious targets on emissions in place, there’s a sense of urgency in the industry. BP’s H2 Teesside facility – a catalyst for the development of hydrogen transport – is a great starting point. If this can be harnessed for maritime benefit, it could really put the freeport on the map among shipping operators.

There’s much more besides that can help us create a sustainable freeport, and one with a competitive advantage which could lead to more trade, more investment and more jobs.

  • Paul Jennings is the chief executive of North P&I Club, a mutual marine insurance company founded in Newcastle in 1860