BUSINESSiQ Editor Mike Hughes hears from three key people about how the impossible is happening 90 miles off the North East coast, after major Carbon Capture projects were recently shortlisted by the Government.


The thing about new technology is that it needs science fiction to become fact.

Inspiring people who want to find solutions have to start with something that can’t be done and find a way to make it possible.

For instance, just imagine if there was a way to take carbon dioxide from plants in the North East and stop it from getting into the atmosphere by piping it away into safe storage.

That’s the science fiction that the Northern Endurance Partnership is making into fact on Teesside.

bp, Equinor, National Grid, Shell and Total Energies formed the NEP to develop the offshore infrastructure to transport and store millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions under the North Sea.

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NZT Power, a joint venture with Equinor and operated by bp from a huge site at Teesworks, will be the world’s first commercial scale gas-fired power station with carbon capture technology which will be directly connected to this transportation and storage network from its first day.

bp’s other major project, H2Teesside, aims to be one of the UK’s largest blue hydrogen production facilities, capturing and storing around two million tonnes of CO2 every year via NEP.

Follow the NEP pipeline from those two projects and you come to the place where all that CO2 will be stored, the Endurance Aquifer 90 miles away under the North Sea.

More than 13 miles long, five miles wide and more than 200 metres thick, this rock formation allows CO2 to be pumped into it at high pressure – and stay there. It is estimated that it can take 415 million tonnes of carbon dioxide that would otherwise shorten the life of our planet.

The man who holds that possibility in his hands is Andy Lane, the Northern Endurance Partnership Managing Director responsible for the CO2 transportation and storage side of this extraordinary operation.

The two bp projects have now been shortlisted by BEIS as part of the UK Government’s Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage plans, a huge leap forward after years of planning, partnerships and negotiation, and Andy says collaboration is at the heart of that success.

He told me: “The oil and gas companies in the consortium – bp, Equinor, Shell and Total Energies , are actually quite used to working with each other in the production end of our business - we very rarely do that 100 per cent on our own. That’s partly about spreading the risk, and also recognising that some companies have some specialist skill that work well with other companies.

The Northern Echo: NZT Power at the centre of Teesside's futureNZT Power at the centre of Teesside's future (Image: Press release)

“I recognise it may seem more unusual to external commentators. But we do this quite a lot because each one of those companies has the same challenge of how you transition into a company that is still providing energy, but clean energy.

“We're all on the same journey, we'll do it slightly differently at different speeds, but we're all on the same journey and all of those partners think carbon capture, the infrastructure and the power stations and the hydrogen, all the things that go together inside that cluster, are important to them.

“And on top of that inbuilt collaboration, we all feel there's something to learn here by being involved in it. We'll develop some knowledge that we can then apply in the US or Europe or in Australia or wherever we've got other opportunities. There is learning here for everyone.”

Andy is a prime example of the experience that has been very precisely selected and brought into the NEP to perform roles that they are so suited for it seems there may be no one else in the world who could do it as well. It is the perfect team from companies to individuals, giving the North East an unmatched opportunity to turn the energy tide.

He says: “I've worked all my life producing energy for people to consume, which I'm very proud of, but I am also very proud of what we as an industry have done and what bp as a company has done.

“It is great to be able to use that and apply it to the next stage in making energy provision low-carbon or no-carbon, so I've assembled around me a team of people who were really motivated to do this, from junior through to very senior.

“I’ve got people who have been around the block as many times as I have who desperately want to come to work on this project – and many would be coming home.

“One of the export industries of Teesside has been people and when I worked offshore, you either had a Teesside accent, Glaswegian or South Wales, it was one of those three. And many of them as they get towards the middle or the end of their career want to come back and contribute something to their homeland.

The Northern Echo: How NZT Power will lookHow NZT Power will look (Image: Press release)

“I think people are driven to do things and I know a lot of people working on this project are driven to do something that they feel they can contribute to.”

So where are we now?

The BEIS announcement is an important step, and the NEP are continuing to work on the practical details of key elements of the project like pipeline designs and planning consents.

“I'll be working with all of those emitters, making sure that we can take their carbon into the pipeline systems that we’re designing right now,” says Andy.

“So, how do I get a pipeline from an emitter project inland from north of the River Tees under the river and back out to this side? What do I build on the seabed and where do I drill my wells – then how do I connect them all together?

“That’s the same when I connect up from Drax power station at Selby all the way through the South Bank of the Humber, across the river, up to towards Hull and then out from the coast.”

That level of design and construction and what it all leads to has never been seen before. So while transferable skills that already exist will be vital, new ones need to be developed to form a new generation of workers. Andy says education is as vital as the pipelines themselves.

“If we're going to create a lot of high quality green jobs then local people need to get access to those jobs as best they can. I worry that we won't have the right amount of well qualified, experienced people locally so I think it's our job to participate in that conversation and be very clear.

“As employers of the future we need to make sure everyone knows what we’re going to do and what it is we need so that the providers of education from junior school through apprenticeships and on to PhDs are all able to choose what they're doing to help us deliver. To do so we are working with a wide range of education and skills stakeholders.”

The overarching vision sounds dramatic because it is – more science fiction that no one has had a chance to turn into fact yet. Until now.

It is a race against time and needs to be operational as soon as possible to apply the brakes to an emissions juggernaut, but that is the sort of challenge that the NEP was built for.

The Partnership will work with many existing industries to help them realign and plug into the CO2 storage option now available to them. But NZT Power is the next opportunity – building power stations specifically designed to be part of the network taking emissions out to Endurance.

NZT Powers’ Commercial Manager Ian Hunter has seen the groundbreaking power station grow from an idea developed by two people in a single office to plans, partnerships and, most recently, that BEIS shortlisting that keeps the project on the road to delivery.

It doesn't really matter who you are, you still need to make sure you've demonstrated that you've got a clear plan and the ability to deliver it.

“There have certainly been big changes in the last four years,” he tells me in an office at Teesworks, just a short distance from the site where NZT Power will start to be built.

“Government support has been vital from the first day and they have a clear process for shortlisting projects and progressing them. It doesn't really matter who you are, you still need to make sure you've demonstrated that you've got a clear plan and the ability to deliver it. After all the work we had put in, we’d have been very disappointed if we hadn't been shortlisted. But that's not to say that it couldn't have happened.

“Selection onto the shortlist by the Government really gives us the confidence to continue to progress the project towards a final decision to start construction. In terms of where we are now, we have already entered front end engineering and design. So that's getting into the detailed design of the plant in preparation for starting construction.

“That means we will need a mix of existing skills and, of course, bringing in skills from elsewhere in the country or even from abroad. But that is all about bringing in the skills that will enable Teesside to develop into what we hope will be a real high tech, low carbon hub.

“The region has got some quite unique attributes. It's a geographically compact area which is down to its industrial history in terms of steel, but also chemicals with ICI, so that means there's the potential for lots of low carbon projects located near to each other. That means economies of scale and the potential for cheaper networks to capture this carbonand safely store it.

The Northern Echo: The huge Teesworks siteThe huge Teesworks site (Image: Press release)

“That all gives us a head start as we create a pipeline of projects that can secure jobs and attract the supply chain into the region. I think the most valuable asset for any local economy is always its people, and Teesside does have a wealth of skills locally. And that's something that we can build on as we start to develop these new industries that will take similar skill sets, but really refine them to make them fit for the future.”

Geology and geography are clearly key assets here, and while our Teesside heritage has helped shape them it has also given us a new generations of workers with skills and a vision made from steel and iron built into their DNA.

So the key elements are here, the investment from bp is here, and Ian says the vital long-term support of government is clear as well.

“Because of the history in Teesside, what we tend to find is that when we've been consulting with a number of people across the region as part of our planning process, we have found that people are very supportive.

“The question isn't so much ‘how's that going to look in my backyard?’ but more about the jobs, and that level of engagement will be the fuel for its success.

“I think we've got a diverse and dedicated team that we've put together, but there is always more we can do. So we are out in schools at the moment, trying to boost that engagement even further by going into the classroom or into colleges, and offer opportunities to students that can really inspire them with a project that's right on their doorstep.

“A vital part of the opportunity for the next generation is that it really does reflect the sort of diversity that we hope will give us our workforces in the future. bp has got a long track record of working with schools and universities to try to encourage people to enter science, technology and engineering careers, so this is just an evolution of that, but retooling those students for a different type of industry in the future.

“Nationally, the public is not as familiar with big engineering projects of this type. But people are interested in net zero and how our project can play a role in achieving that and central Government is very enthusiastic about the opportunities for levelling up the regions across the UK, and we see this as a vital part of initiative too

“They also have a really important role in helping to develop an investment framework, that means it's not just one project that's going to be developed, but rather a pipeline of multiple projects, not just here, but all across the country that can really move the dial on achieving net zero.”

This is a contract to be fulfilled, but nobody in this remarkable conversation misses the immense and powerful symbolism of it all – how the desolation we all felt as the power of steel fell away now has the chance of being replaced.

“It’s a really powerful moment and the shift from the old to the new is not lost on us,” says Ian.

“We know how important it will be for this region to get the first signs up that show how far along we are towards starting construction. That’s why it has been so important for me to put together a partnership to work with local stakeholders, communities, local governments, to allow it to progress.

“That is the partnership working as it should, for the good of the project and the people who will benefit from it.”

The Net Zero Teesside and the Northern Endurance Partnership have also benefited from Government support, with investment from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Dr William Joyce, Innovation Lead for Industrial Decarbonisation, who recently visited the NZT Power site. said “UKRI through the Industrial Decarbonisation Challenge programme has invested over £52 million across both the Net Zero Teesside and Norther Endurance Partnership projects. Together, this CCS scheme is world leading in scale and opportunity; a flagship project for the UK which will make a significant contribution to our domestic Net Zero targets.”

With the infrastructure and the power plant in such safe hands, bp can see its vision for Teesside’s role in an energy revolution taking shape, and soon we will see that vision becoming clear. Matt Williamson, the company’s UK hydrogen lead, says it’s now time to get on with ‘the nuts and bolts’ of the operation.

His brief encompasses H2 Teesside, which has just been shortlisted byBEIS, and HyGreen Teesside, bp’s proposed green hydrogen production facility. The two together have the combined potential to deliver 15 per cent of the UK’s ‎‎2030 target for hydrogen production‎.

“We are proud that H2 Teesside has been shortlisted by BEIS, and it means a whole lot for all the key stakeholders because our hydrogen customers can see it’s all a bit more real now,” he says.

“But also for anybody involved in skills development, colleges selling courses, students thinking about a career in manufacturing, it all becomes more positive. We always had a very good plan, but with that tick in the box from Government, we know they like the Teesside story and they like the hydrogen story coming here, so we can now continue with the nuts and bolts of executing the project and convince them that this is the best project in the best place.”

HyGreen will come first, because it makes hydrogen through the electrolysis of water using renewable electricity, and it is quicker to build an electrolyser than to build a blue hydrogen plant. So the plan is in 2025 bp will have 60 megawatts of green hydrogen in HyGreen. But as more renewable power comes available, there is the potential for a ten-fold expansion.

So 2025 is a key date Matt and his team are working towards - and from an engineering perspective, that's just around the corner.

“2025 is no time away. We have to connect up the low carbon electricity to the electrolyser and get the hydrogen to customers, some of whom will take it through a pipeline and some of whom are going to get it from a hydrogen truckstop so we've got to build the truckstop and get the hydrogen there.

“But I've got a great team of people who know all about producing renewable power and who have been working with trucks for decades, and they know how to make a hydrogen truckstop work.

“Then, I’ve got people who've been working with industrial customers supplying their energy needs forever, so we know how to get hydrogen to these customers. It’s really exciting and very real for each one of us.

“This is how we see the future – with hydrogen as a really good way to move trucks from diesel and the CO2 emissions associated with diesel and get them to a low carbon fuel. This is where we start, and then we build it out from Teesside.”

The fact that it is ‘building out from Teesside’ is still difficult to take in. The UK needs this to happen so that it can play its part in slashing emissions because the planet has to breathe again. That means that the eyes of the world will be on the North East and Google searches will be saved for ‘andy lane’ ‘ian hunter’ and ‘matt williamson’.

It’s that big and that vital. So we want to see pipes, buildings and jobs – and they will come, says Matt, but all as part of the process.

“Not many people get to see what has been happening so far unless they happen to be walking around the site and see one of our environmental contractors, making sure that we're not going to be disturbing any wildlife on the pipeline routes. We will be consulting with everyone on our detailed plans very shortly - we take our commitment to building responsibly very seriously.”

“There will also be people doing ground surveys to make sure that we've got the right foundations, so I appreciate the work at the moment is largely invisible to people out and about in Teesside.

The Northern Echo: The plan for the East Coast ClusterThe plan for the East Coast Cluster (Image: bp)

“But we are already talking to engineers all over the region to work on things like pipeline routes and getting the right utilities to supply the plants and then as you go a bit broader, we're having conversations with all the other suppliers to the project, including people who can supply low carbon power. So there's a lot of activity, but at this stage it’s just not as visible as a digger on the sites.

“This is just the start of a long and exciting story for bp on Teesside. I have worked at refineries where there have been grandfathers, sons and granddaughters – and that would be my vision for the hydrogen projects here. We've got Net Zero targets that go out to 2050 and these projects will still be up and running then and contributing to a low carbon future for Teesside, bp and the UK. So these are jobs, not just for this generation, but for the next generation as well.

“We always try and take our senior leaders to Teesside to meet people like Mary Lanigan and Ben Houchen so they can understand the commitment locally to support and get these projects done.

“That then means we get the right bp resources to fully back the project and that when we go to national government, they know bp is committed to being one of the UK energy champions, and creating opportunities for British investments outside of the UK.

“We will work with everybody and listen to what they need from us and then we will deliver.”

As Prime Ministers and Business Secretaries change over the course of such a long-term project, that message of confidence and ability continues unabated. The bp approach is not to deliver a single plan, but the entire vision which has its own impetus and velocity.

If it’s a good project today, it’ll be a good project in three years, four years and over the next 20 years, but that timeline has to start as soon as possible and Matt is well aware of the need for affordable and secure power.

“When we started work on H2Teesside we thought it was urgent to help the UK move to a low carbon future. But it's clear that it's now also about security in energy and a future that is more affordable and more secure. As a child of the Seventies I remember power cuts and sitting as a family through that. I know that our parents shielded us from the worst of it, but it was such a tough time for them. So I guess part of what I do now is for my kids and informs how I see my role which is to make low carbon hydrogen as low cost as possible, and as soon as possible.

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“I think that's when you work hard for something and how you get the outcome that you've strived for. That gives you the energy and the conviction to carry on with even more commitment.

“The other thing that does make me excited is that almost every week, I'm welcoming a new face to the team, which means that we're doing something right because the activity is ramping up.”

These three won’t like being called game-changers, but as part of bp’s vast influence on Teesside, they are key people who walk or drive to their offices every day and make decisions that will change our futures.

Their work at each stage of a NEP pipeline of innovation and determination will bring jobs and investment to a place that thought it had been left behind. That inspires engagement, respect and support from Teessiders keen to be part of a new chapter.