Accelerating Net Zero Chemical Manufacturing Series: Investment in low-carbon infrastructure will play a major role

Posted on: 03/06/2020

What does chemical manufacturing look like in a Net Zero world in 2050, and how do we accelerate innovation in key technologies to enable this?


The world is in the midst of a war against Covid-19, which is currently causing major disruption to us at an individual, local and global level. At the time of writing, it is still unclear what the short and longer term impacts of Covid-19 will be. However, governments, businesses and society must soon turn their attention back to the growing climate change crisis which is reaching a critical point. With the goal here in the UK being to deliver our legally binding target of Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050, all sectors will need to consider what manufacturing looks like to them in 2050.

In the first article of the series we will explore some of the vital changes in local infrastructure that we can expect – and need! – in order to enable Net Zero chemical manufacturing. We will focus on the changes within large industrial clusters as a significant proportion of the UK’s commodity and fine chemicals manufacturing – which are the building blocks for products everywhere – takes place within these large industrial clusters (particularly in Teesside, Humberside, Runcorn & Grangemouth). It is also where we see substantial initial investment from the UK Government & industry. However, many of the changes we cover here are highly relevant to consider for smaller chemical manufacturing hubs.

Establishing Net Zero Manufacturing Clusters in the UK

The UK Government has set an ambitious Grand Challenge to “establish the world’s first net-zero carbon industrial cluster by 2040 and at least one low-carbon cluster by 2030” committing £170 million through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) Industrial Decarbonisation Challenge (IDC) to kick-start it.

Creating these Net Zero (and eventually even Net Negative) manufacturing clusters is very exciting for the UK. Yes it will certainly require further strong policy intervention and further significant co-investment from Government & industry beyond the IDC if we can make this happen – and we can – then this would be truly transformative and help drive investment, skills and jobs in the new green manufacturing economy.

Based on our understanding of current Government policy and from engaging with our local industrial clusters, we believe there are three critical low-carbon infrastructure components which can expect to be deployed at our key industrial clusters by 2050:

1. Low Carbon Energy

Many chemical manufacturing processes require significant amounts of energy and in a Net Zero world access to low carbon energy, at a globally competitive price, will be absolutely critical. In 2050 this could be produced locally from a combination of technologies, for example combustion of waste materials like biomass, plastic waste, municipal waste. With biomass combustion there is even the potential to look at net-negative options (so called BECCS). Renewable energy will play a key role too, particularly Off-Shore wind where we are leading the world and aiming to bring online 75GW by 2050, which if online today would be more than enough to power every home in Britain.

2. Carbon Capture and Storage

In the future, manufacturers operating within large industrial clusters will connect to carbon capture and storage (CCS) networks in order to mitigate their combustion & process emissions. Their emissions will be captured in a network of pipes, transported and permanently stored in underground sites off-shore. Investment in carbon capture and storage (CCS) will be essential to enable carbon intensive chemical manufacturing processes to continue to operate in the UK by 2050. CCS will also enable us to utilise the captured CO2 as a feedstock for producing chemicals materials – this is going to be very important in a Net Zero world, but more on this in our next and forthcoming articles.

3. Low Carbon Hydrogen

By 2050 we can expect to see hydrogen produced centrally within industrial clusters, with this hydrogen being produced via reforming of methane (so called ‘Blue Hydrogen’). This will enabled by deploying local CCS networks, which can store the by-product from this reaction (CO2). We will also expect to see hydrogen produced via electrolysis (so called ‘Green Hydrogen’) playing a key role. This Green Hydrogen will be enabled by our world leading offshore wind sector who will provide the zero carbon energy for this process. If we just consider the amount of curtailed offshore wind energy available in 2019 (1,941,151 MWhr), this could be sufficient to generate 46,900 tonnes of hydrogen through electrolysis – enough to produce over 100,000 tonnes of sustainable aviation fuel.* In our Net Zero future, both Blue and Green Hydrogen will be required if we are to fully realise the potential Hydrogen Economy across the UK and meet Net Zero targets. We have some world-leading companies in clean hydrogen headquartered in the UK and some exciting projects in train so we are in a good position to capitalise on this opportunity to utilise this hydrogen for energy, but also for the production of low carbon fuels and chemicals.**


You will see that each of these three components are interdependent, which means we need to see all of them developed at scale in unison.


Many of our major industrial clusters have set out initial visions on how to get to Net Zero and will be progressing this via the IDC Deployment & Roadmap activities over the next few years. The vision for the South Wales Industrial Cluster (SWIC) is below but you can find out more about visions for the North West (HyNet project), Humberside (ZeroCarbonHumber), Teesside (NetZeroTeesside) and Scotland (NECCUS) via these links.

Figure: South Wales Industrial Cluster Vision (


We believe these investments in low carbon energy, CCS and low carbon Hydrogen are very exciting and critical as part of our transition to Net Zero. We will consider in our next and forthcoming articles which feedstocks will we be using to produce chemicals in 2050 and where are our strengths in capability in key technology areas?


* Data and calculation provided by Kris Wadrop (General Manager – Biotechnology and Step-Out Business Units @ CPI, High Value Manufacturing Catapult) part of project SWIFT (unpublished)
** KTN is setting up a Hydrogen Economy Special Interest Group – visit the page for more information.


Article by Dr Peter Clark & Dr Sheena Hindocha

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