The Government is close to guaranteeing a £1bn energy scheme which would see Northumberand open a new gas plant processing fuel recovered from rocks beneath the North Sea.
The Treasury has published a provisional £33bn list of projects it is prepared to back as part of a new wave of infrastructure projects.
Among them is an ambitious bid by Newcastle University spin-off Five Quarter to pump oxygen and steam two kilometres beneath the seabed to react with the rocks and produce a syngas. This would then be piped back to a new processing plant before been sent to the likes of Teesside for its chemical industry. The Government is understood to be keen on a project designed to ensure the UK’s manufacturing industry does not become uncompetitive as America re-energises its heavy industry thanks to cheaper fracking fuel.
The Five Quarter plan would create around 400 jobs at a new gas plant designed to process the fuel, with the company chief executive saying they have made enquires into bringing the former Alcan site back into use.
The firm says it could repeat the success seen in Aberdeen’s oil and gas sector with as many as 4,000 jobs in supply chain industries and related companies.
Company founder Harry Bradbury said the Deep Gas Winning method was a unique and vital way of ensuring the UK can maintain a manufacturing capacity in the face of spiralling energy costs.
Speaking to The Journal, the chief executive from Hexham said: “We’re on the list of nationally significant projects and as such we effectively have the Treasury with us as we enter the negotiation stage with the major lending banks. Now we have a large scale employment opportunity.
“While the Government wants to keep the lights on, we need to keep in mind that renewable energy is only going to produce electricity.
“We’re here North of Teesside, south of Grangemouth with strategic industries that need major fuel stocks. We can serve that type of industry but also be the with type to deal with clean fuel usages. And, sadly, the situation at Grangemouth shows us that we have to move fast to protect jobs.”
Five Quarter are already considering locations for the new facility, with hopes of having “boots on the ground” within three to five years of securing funding.
The company played a key role in helping Northumberland county Council convince Government to expand the Enterprise Zone to Blyth, and is in talks with county officials other potential sites. There would, as well as a processing plant, be a need for pipelines down to Teesside.
Mr Bradbury added: “America has used cheap fuel through fracking to not only resurrect a manufacturing tradition others thought was gone, but also being in new industries.
“If you look at China they are fully aware of their needs to become independent in energy terms. If we want our own manufacturing industry to survive we have to find ways to make it competitive.
“We have said very clearly not only do we need to protect jobs in Teesside but bring in new skills to the region, and the Treasury sees that argument.”