Distillation tank of oil refinery plant, twilight time.

North East England’s base and petrochemical cluster is one of the foremost in Europe. It is a vibrant collaborative community of companies with many global leaders represented and is quite simply thriving!

The commodity chemical industry, predominately based on Teesside, stretches back over 170 years during which time there has been a continuous stream of world leading products and processes. This legacy and the continual business rejuvenation, driven by innovation and investment, has cemented the region as a leading location for the process industry.

Teesside is hot-wired into the North Sea for the supply of oil and gas raw materials, whilst the port makes it a central point in the North Sea basin, giving access to both the European and wider global markets.

The sector feeds into benefits from other industries in the region. Many of the plants are integrated through a network of pipelines ensuring that the end product of one company becomes the raw material of another.

Game changing investments

Most recently, Teesside has seen a great deal of new activity and investment in the chemical sector including both new plants and facility upgrades.

A successful multi-million-pound upgrade of SABIC’s Olefins 6 plant at Wilton was completed in the first quarter of 2017, after the largest single investment in the Teesside chemical industry in a generation.

The 37-year-old Cracker underwent complex changes to allow it to process US-imported ethane gas as an alternative raw material. The plant will also continue to process propane, butane, naphtha and condensates as feedstocks, making it the most feed flexible cracker in Europe.

The ambitious project, which took two years to complete, also involved the building of an extensive ethane terminal at SABIC’s North Tees site, including the construction of Europe’s largest cryogenic ethane tank. A pipeline will carry ethane from the new North Tees storage tank through a series of pipe trenches under the River Tees to connect to the cracker complex at Wilton.

Two ships were commissioned, designed and built to transport the ethane from the US to Teesside, while the automation platform and software upgraded to ensure the operation worked from the control rooms. Work will continue over the coming months as the firm decommissions inherited and redundant facilities at both Wilton and North Tees, clearing the way for the next big project! 

In addition, 2017 saw construction work formally commence on the long-awaited Sirius Minerals Potash mine. The mine, when it goes into production, will be the world’s largest potash mine – extracting polyhalite from a large underground area and conveying it by tunnel to a berth in the River Tees. 

By extracting polyhalite from deep beneath the North York Moors, this project is set to generate 2,000 direct jobs and pump billions into the economy. The polyhalite mine will be a world-first and the largest single investment in recent years in North East England. The mine, which will take 5 years to build and produce for 100 years, will operate processing facilities on Teesside.

Furthermore, MGT Power are making great strides in the construction of their £650 million Teesside Renewable Energy Plant. Fuelled by wood chip and pellets, the plant will generate electricity for the equivalent of 600,000 homes, creating hundreds of construction jobs and then more than 100 full time roles. 

Growth of the biomass industry is being driven by the global shift to low-carbon fuel sources. The Teesport-based project, which will reach full operating capacity in 2020, will alter the landscape as we know it and include silos for biomass that stand at 36m high that will sit alongside a 75m high boiler and a 93m high flue. 

Situated on the banks of the River Tees, a joint venture between Eco2 Ltd and Temporis Capital LLP is also under construction. The Port Clarence Energy Project will provide 40MW of renewable energy to the UK energy market through the combustion of waste wood. The project will have the capacity to process 325,000 tonnes of waste wood per year from construction, demolition and civic amenity sites and packaging.

Furthermore, SNF Oil and Gas – part of SNF Group, the world’s largest producer of water soluble polymers – have invested £150 million in a new polymer plant for the production of oilfield chemicals in Billingham. 

Australian firm, Peak Resources, have also named Wilton International as the preferred location for its £70m rare earth minerals processing plant. The refinery would process minerals for use in a range of products, including mobile phones, wind turbines and for the automotive sector. If the proposal gets the go-ahead, production is expected to start in 2019.

In addition to the large-scale investment projects, growth is too being reported. CropEnergies Ensus, the company behind one of Europe’s largest bioethanol plants, has recently reported its first profit after being plagued by market conditions that forced the site to be mothballed in 2014. Brought back on-line in July 2016, the facility has an annual capacity of 400,000 cubic metres of bioethanol, 350,000 tonnes of dried protein animal feed and supplies CO2 to neighbouring firm, Praxair.

Looking at the Landscape

Teesside’s commodity chemical industry is concentrated across a relatively small geographical area on both sides of the River Tees, approximately 12 miles from west to east, with three main sites – Wilton International, Billingham and Seal Sands-North Tees.

The 2,000 acre Wilton International site is one of the UK’s principal manufacturing sites. Owned by Sembcorp Utilities, the site is home to Huntsman, Lotte Chemical UK, Biffa, Invista and International Power GDF Suez, along with the aforementioned SABIC UK Petrochemicals, CropEnergies Ensus and Praxiar. 

With a 60-year heritage and originally a cornerstone of the ICI business, today 3,000 people work on the site and some 50 companies, including suppliers of key maintenance and engineering services. 

The site has extensive existing infrastructure including power, steam and water and underpinned by one of the largest Crackers in Europe. There are also more than 120Km of corridor carrying pipelines, cables and distribution systems – important links saving investors time and money in getting new projects off the ground quickly.

One of only a few sites in Western Europe with special development status for heavy industrial use, it sits alongside one of the largest research and development centres in Europe – the Wilton Centre.

Billingham’s chemical heritage began in the 1920s with the production of ammonia, fertiliser and plastic by then owners ICI. Today chemical, biotechnology and engineering companies continue to operate at the multi-company Billingham Chemical Park and include CF Fertilisers, Johnson Matthey and Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies. Lucite International’s Billingham-based plant is the powerhouse of the company’s methacrylates business and the largest methyl methacrylate production site in the Mitsubishi Chemical Lucite Group. Adjacent to this is the 62 acre Belasis Business Park – home to companies such as Cambridge Research Biochemicals, ABB and near-by water treatment specialists, Biochemica.

Situated in the mouth of the River Tees on recovered land from the sea, an area of Seal Sands became an industrial park for the Chemical Industry in the 1960s. Operators here include Ineos, Fine Industries, SABIC, Vertellus, ConocoPhillips, Wood plc (operators of BP Cats Terminal), Inter Terminals, Navigator Terminals, Harvest Energy, Greenergy, px group, Victrex and Air Products.

The ConocoPhillips Ekofisk oil pipeline & BP Cats natural gas pipeline both landfall here also – 20 per cent of the UK’s natural gas is brought in here before being transferred onto the national grid. Butane, ethylene and condensate are also supplied.

Commodity Specialities are also made in this region such as PET by Lotte Chemicals, Perspex by Lucite International and Titanium Dioxide and polyurethane intermediates by Huntsman. Several new technologies, such as graphene applications, polylactic acid polymers and printable electronics, are also being developed here.

Come and join us

The message to the Global chemistry-using industries, that may be looking to invest, is that North East England has the infrastructure and supply chain capabilities to support your project and to help your business grow. 

Whatever process you want to operate, this region can help you to achieve it. NEPIC represents a world-class process industry location with unprecedented levels of supply chain expertise and experience; come & join us.

Introducing NEPIC

NEPIC, the North East Process Industry Cluster, is a proactive membership organisation working on behalf of the chemical-processing sector and its associated supply chain in the North East of England. Owned by its member companies and guided by a strong team of industrial leaders, NEPIC are one of the most influential clusters in the UK.

For more than a decade, NEPIC has delivered high quality business growth support, working with member companies of all shapes and sizes, with activities to date have generated more than £3 billion of GVA for the region.

The NEPIC network includes member and partner companies that work within or would like to become involved in the region’s largest industrial sector. If your organisation is looking to grow or be part of the sector or supply chain, NEPIC have the network and expertise available to help you win new business and succeed. 

Membership of NEPIC offers immediate connectivity to a wide and diverse process industry incorporating petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, fine & speciality, biotechnology, polymers, bioresources & renewables and significant supply chain.

As well as providing members with the tangible membership benefits, NEPIC are continually working on key projects and industry issues to ensure the long-term sustainability of the chemical-processing sector in North East England and creating a business environment in which firms can thrive.

Find out more today and let NEPIC help you grow!