THE future looks bright at one of the UK’s most important manufacturing sites, partly as a result of an unparalleled year of investment.
Hundreds of millions of pounds of spend is either under way or has been announced in the past year at the Wilton International site.
The investments, by a range of site companies, will eventually create hundreds of direct new jobs and sustain thousands of others in key service and supply areas.
The most significant announcement of the year came in March when Ensus, a Yarm-based company with a strong management team with years of experience in manufacturing on Teesside, announced plans to build a £250m world-scale bioethanol plant at Wilton International.
When completed in 2009, the plant will have an annual capacity of more than 400 million litres of the environmentally-friendly fuel.
The product will be made from around a million tonnes of wheat a year using a process of distillation and fermentation.
David Miliband, the then Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, paid a visit to the site in May to mark the beginning of construction.
The plant will supply around one-third of the UK’s anticipated bioethanol needs by 2010 – enough to fuel around 300,000 vehicles a year.
The investment will create 100 new jobs on the site and sustain more than 1,500 jobs in farming as well as hundreds of others in construction and supply industries.
Ensus is a growing company which also has plans to build other similar units in Europe over the next few years to meet anticipated demand.
On the back of the Ensus announcement, SembCorp Utilities UK, which supplies key utilities and services to site companies at Wilton, announced it was to press ahead with construction of a £36m gas turbine and heat recovery steam generator (GT/HRSG) unit.
As well as supplying more than 40 MW of electricity, the unit will also create up to 162 tonnes of steam per hour to enhance steam supply across the rest of the site.
Steam is used in large quantities by companies on the site as part of processing operations – mainly in general heating, the heating of vessels or driving moving equipment.
SembCorp complemented its GT/HRSG move with a further announcement in May of a £7m investment in four new package boilers adjacent to the Wilton Power Station.
The boilers will each be capable of generating up to 30 tonnes of steam an hour which will further add to the site’s ability to cope with the anticipated additional demand for steam. In November, UK Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks officially opened SembCorp’s biggest investment – the £64m SembCorp Biomass Power Station.
The plant had come on line a month earlier, making substantial amounts of electricity solely from wood for the first time in the UK.
The wood, which comes from a variety of sustainable sources, including much that formerly ended up in landfill sites, is more environmentally beneficial to use than traditional fossil fuels – saving around 200,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide compared to a traditional coal fired unit.
The biomass plant is making make enough electricity to power a small town of around 30,000 homes.
Meanwhile, SembCorp’s site customers continue to enhance their own assets.
With construction well advanced, next year will see the opening of SABIC’s new £200m low density polyethylene plant (LDPE) which will make the UK a net exporter of this versatile plastic.
The 400,000 tonne plant, the largest of its kind in the world, will create around 120 permanent jobs and help underpin the future of the Cracker facility at Wilton. It will also sustain further SABIC and contractor jobs at North Tees and Wilton.
Other significant proposed site investments have been outlined.
Discussions continue with Ecco Newsprint, which is looking to bring the UK’s largest paper recycling mill to Wilton.
The reported £275m investment would convert recycled newspapers and magazines into high-quality newsprint; it would employ around 175 people and sustain work for more than 1,000 others in the supply chain. With planning permission secured, construction is likely to get under way next year.
And in October, SONHOE, a London-based development company, outlined plans for what is believed to be the largest-ever single investment in a process plant in the UK.
The company wishes to spend £2bn on a specialised crude oil refinery, a substantial part of which could be on the Wilton site.
The refinery would convert low-quality heavy crude oil (found in large quantities in the North Sea) into high-quality low-sulphur diesel for transportation fuels, the chemical feedstock naphtha and kerosene, used as jet fuel.
Paul Gavens, executive vice president and managing director of SembCorp Utilities UK, said: “I have never known such an intense amount of investment activity on the site.
“All of these developments and proposed developments are of huge importance to the area and are helping to continue the investment renaissance here. We’ve already seen more than £1bn spent by site companies in the past 10 years.”