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Big problem, ambitious targets – but it is achievable

Based at the Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, The Industrial Decarbonisation Research & Innovation Centre (IDRIC) was established in May 2020 to become the UK’s one-stop source of information and guidance for industry, Government and other policymakers on the subject of carbon emissions.

The IDRIC’s role is in the title; it is a forum for academia to collaborate with industry to provide the research and innovation for individual companies to implement through new, cost-effective industrial processes. Most importantly, this is a joint project where no single faction holds a monopoly on what constitutes a good idea. The Government’s Industrial Decarbonisation programme is funded by £170m from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

The scale of the task to reduce carbon emissions in the UK is huge and the targets daunting. The IDRIC has started the ball rolling by identifying the six largest ‘industrial clusters’ by emissions: Humberside, South Wales, Grangemouth, Teesside, North West England and Southampton. Between them, these areas account for 40m tonnes of Carbon Dioxide emissions per annum, equating to around one third of all business and industrial emissions in the UK.

The IDRIC’s ambition is to create the world’s first net-zero industrial cluster by 2040 and at least one low carbon cluster by 2030. And the endgame is not simply to help industry meet Government targets (e.g. net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050), but to lead the world in know-how and thereby establish Britain as the natural home for global industries wishing to improve their green credentials. In short, to turn necessity into an opportunity to create wealth for this country.

Professor Mercedes Moroto-Valer, who heads up IDRIC, is calling for “a new type of engineer” and has said that: “To decarbonise whole regions, we need engineers who understand systems rather than one process or technology.” There will be countless opportunities for both ambitious companies and individuals to play their part.

Progress is the name of the game, but it has also been made clear that decarbonisation does not necessarily spell the end of traditional industries, such as petrochemicals, steel or cement manufacture. But, apart from the need for everyone to pull together in the same direction, it will mean that a huge amount of training, re-training and education will be required if the targets for permanent change are to be achieved.

UnitBirwelco has operational divisions located in two of the largest industrial clusters, but the Group has already achieved carbon negative status, proving that, while the targets may look daunting, they are achievable.

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