Mike Hughes looks at the timeline for one of the most anticipated projects on Teesside – bp’s H2Teesside hydrogen plant – with Will Harrison-Cripps, the man who will be delivering it.

When the national and global spotlight falls on regions like the North East, the challenge is to make sure there is something here for it to reveal.

Like no other region, this place is attracting attention because of the plans it has for its future. Game-changing ideas, collaborations and deals are a magnet for investors and like-minded businesses and are making the region a self-perpetuating innovation cluster.

But like every project of such importance, there has to be a period of plan-drawing, deal-signing, remediation, contract negotiations and consultations before the foundations start going in and the jobs start being advertised.

It’s an essential and hugely busy time for the main parties involved, but away from the boardrooms and negotiating tables, there is nothing to beat an increase in the crane and digger count to really drive home the difference it is all going to make to businesses and families.

For bp – perhaps the most influential of many companies who have chosen to invest here – the time is almost here.

The Northern Echo: Join us at Ramside HallJoin us at Ramside Hall (Image: Newsquest)

H2Teesside is planned to be one of the UK’s largest blue hydrogen production facilities, potentially supplying over 10 per cent of the UK government’s ambition for 10GW of hydrogen by 2030.

It also aims to help surrounding industries across the Tees Valley decarbonise their existing operations by switching the fuel to blue hydrogen, extracted from natural gas with the vast majority of CO2 produced being captured and stored.

The CCUS side of H2Teesside will capture and send for storage approximately two million tonnes of CO2 per year, equivalent to capturing the emissions produced by heating one million households in the UK.

It is one of three remarkable bp projects here, alongside HyGreen, which will produce green hydrogen using renewable power such as solar or wind, and the flagship Net Zero Teesside Power (NZT Power), a pioneering gas-fired power station with carbon capture technology.

The combined benefits of these projects are mind-boggling, as are the career opportunities they will bring.

NZT Power could support more than 3,000 jobs during construction and add up to £300 million to the economy each year while H2Teesside could support around 1,300 jobs, both direct and indirect, during the construction phase and up to 130 jobs during the operational phase, as well as approximately 600 supply chain roles. HyGreen Teesside could create an average of 660 jobs a year during construction and create and safeguard over 100 jobs a year during operation.

Will Harrison-Cripps, Asset Development Lead for H2Teesside, has lived every moment of the project, from the Government approving it as a Track-1 Capture Project which meant it could proceed to negotiations for funding support, to the DCO process (Development Consent Order) which involved submitting 1,500 pages of highly detailed reports and analysis to support the plans.

“None of this has been a foregone conclusion – you have to bid for your place at every stage,” Will told me.

The Northern Echo: bp on sitebp on site (Image: Press release)

“There is a competition, a procurement process, that the UK government is running, and each project will only go ahead if it is competitively priced, is affordable and offers value for money for the UK as a whole.

“We’ve been getting into much more detailed negotiations with government around the commercial terms for the hydrogen business model support package, which has been the other step change this year since that Track-1 announcement in March.

“There has quite rightly been scrutiny from them of the costs and the plans for our project, in addition to the scrutiny that a project of this significance quite rightly faces from the public through the planning process.”

Another key moment that drove the project ever closer to a crane count was an agreement with Johnson Matthey to use their innovative LCH (Low Carbon Hydrogen) technology, which offers the lowest natural gas usage commercially available and can capture up to 99 per cent of carbon dioxide produced.

When the deal was agreed, Alberto Giovanzana of Johnson Matthey, told BUSINESSiQ: “bp’s H2Teesside project will be at the forefront of the UK’s efforts to decarbonise, and we’re proud JM’s innovative LCH technology will be at the heart of it.”

Will tells me it showed the value of partnerships between some of the world’s most innovative businesses.

“We have been running a lot of detailed analysis and then a procurement process ultimately to select the technology which would be used to turn the natural gas into hydrogen and it’s Johnson Matthey technology that we selected to be the provider for H2Teesside.

“There are really two key components to the plant – the production of the hydrogen, which is the Johnson Matthey package, and the carbon capture technology where procurement is currently running. For that second part, negotiations will soon be concluding and we hope to announce the selected party in the not too distant future.

“These partnerships to bring together the leading technologies from around the world are a vital part of projects on this sort of scale because we have to provide the best solution for any particular situation.

“Johnson Matthey has the obvious added advantage of being local to Teesside, which is an exciting bonus that wasn’t planned when we started the whole project.”

The Northern Echo: Chancellor Jeremy Hunt visits the Redcar hubChancellor Jeremy Hunt visits the Redcar hub (Image: Newsquest)

So what does 2024 hold – what signs of progress will make it clear this is happening and that career paths can start to be planned?

Will has, of course, been to Teesside many times to prepare the next stage and has stood on the Teesworks plot where H2Teesside is planned to start hydrogen production in 2028. That seemed like a long way off at one stage, but is now a deadline that is keeping the minds of him and his team very focussed.

“Last time I was there, I was chatting with the security guard who was escorting us around and he said ‘that’s great, I never thought anything was actually going to happen here’.

“He was then asking what’s it going to mean for jobs in the area and added: ‘Not for me, I’ll be retired, but for my children.’ “I think that really drove the point home for me that having that opportunity and that future as a key enabler to the UK’s energy transition is really important. I find it so impactful to see that personal connection that people have with the steelworks and the hope for the future.

“I think the first thing to say about progress is that we are certainly on schedule after a lot of work this year.

We will always respect the heritage of Teesside – that’s an important part for me – as well as working with local people to tell them about the future we have in store.

“We’ve seen a lot of high-vis jackets on the ground across Teesside, undertaking environmental surveys, looking for birds, bats, newts, all of those important things that need to be protected. We have also been looking at routing options for the pipeline as we refine what was a pretty broad potential list of options at the start of the year and really narrow them down.

“It’s all becoming very real now, particularly as we have started to pull together all of the responses that we’ve had from the local community and stakeholders.

“We are spending a lot of time trying to take in their views and incorporate their feedback into the design. That’s been inspiring of itself, just hearing what people need and want to see.

“We had one gentleman who came in towards the end of a consultation session in Redcar who had grown up in the region and worked in the chemicals industry and he told us he could see the benefits the project was bringing.

“We will always respect the heritage of Teesside – that’s an important part for me – as well as working with local people to tell them about the future we have in store.

“They know the region really well. They know why things have been done the way they’re done to date and they can articulate it all very clearly, which is such valuable information that the team is really taking on board.

“Next up, will be us getting into the real detailed engineering design work. The team is growing significantly and has grown through this year and will continue to grow as that work develops.

“We’ve then got the DCO application to put in next year alongside a lot of engagement with hydrogen offtakers and local industry, ultimately in Teesside, to make sure that the product that we’re offering is as matched to their needs as possible.

“We will be in a position to finalise negotiations with government and continue the procurement of various supply chains for construction contracts through 2024 and be making sure front end engineering is progressed.

“The project is becoming more and more real year by year as we move along the detailed route towards commercial operations targeted for 2028 and construction leading up to that.”

From a jobs point of view, the site is still being cleared, which is creating work, and the ongoing ground investigation and design work already involves local offices around Teesside.

But it is through next year that construction contracts will lead to supply chain contracts. Just imagine the amount of welding work, for instance, on a build like this.

And all the time awareness is growing, training is being constantly updated and skills are being honed to make sure the future workforce keeps pace with the project.

Will tells me: “We have a dedicated skills programme already running for H2Teesside, we are working very closely with Redcar College and the Clean Energy Education Hub and we’re offering a £19.5 million fund which we hope will support more than 5,000 people through skills improvement training, raise awareness within the wider community and help to equip people with the right skills so that when we’ve got job opportunities we have people in the local community that have got the skills that we are looking for.

The Northern Echo: Nurturing skills is a key part of bp's work hereNurturing skills is a key part of bp's work here (Image: Newsquest)

“It’s an important thing to have all of those talented individuals ready to support our project when we need them, through its operational phase and through construction.

“And ultimately if they work for us, that’s perfect, but if they end up working in the industry more generally, it’s helping the broader economy and net zero jobs in the region.”

Overarching the whole project has been the Government’s view of what will have the most impact to get the UK to net zero in time and its long-term support as projects start to take shape.

“I think the announcements back in March selecting H2Teesside as one of the three Track-1 projects was an illustration of their thinking,” said Will.

“We also saw the government in October secure Royal Assent for the Energy Bill, setting in place the primary legislation that enables hydrogen projects to come forward, followed by all of the secondary legislation being worked through by government now.

“Close to home we are really working through the details of how it’s going to work commercially with the other cluster projects and businesses, and how we can all come together to support that decarbonisation journey for the region and for the UK more generally.”

From global government to Will’s family – the next few years will change us all.

“My two young daughters continue to check in as to how the project is progressing,” says Will.

“They are so aware of the environmental impact that we as humans have on the planet and every day they want to know what stage the project is at, when it’s going to be ready and what it’s going to do.

“I find that is so sobering and grounding.

“It’s the reason to get out of bed – we’re doing this to make a difference, to improve things.”