Industrial Decarbonisation Champion to steer £20m innovation centre for net-zero transition

Professor Mercedes Maroto-Valer has been appointed as an "Industrial Decarbonisation Champion" to oversee the development of a £20m research and innovation centre at Edinburgh's Heriot-Watt University that will drive the delivery of the UK's net-zero emissions target.

Industrial Decarbonisation Champion to steer £20m innovation centre for net-zero transition

Professor Mercedes Maroto-Valer. Image Heriot-Watt University

Maroto-Valer, who is currently director of the Research Centre for Carbon Solutions (RCCS) at Heriot-Watt University, has been appointed to develop plans for the £20m research centre by funders UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). She will steer a new Industrial Decarbonisation Research and Innovation Centre (IDRIC), thought to be the world’s first, at the University’s campus in Edinburgh.

The Government is aiming to establish the “world’s first net-zero carbon industrial cluster by 2040 and at least one low-carbon cluster by 2030”, as part of the Industrial Clusters Mission. It forms part of the wider Industrial Decarbonisation challenge that commits £170m towards technologies such as carbon capture and hydrogen networks. These technologies will help decarbonise industrial clusters located in Grangemouth, Merseyside, Teesside, Humberside, South Wales and Southampton.

Maroto-Valer will lead consultations with industry, academia and policymakers and will present a proposal as to how to decarbonise the clusters to the UKRI in August. The UKRI is backing the £20m centre with investment until 2024.

“Moving to a low-carbon future is one of the greatest challenges facing the world. I’m excited to be taking on this responsibility and I’m confident we can do this. We have to be successful,” Maroto-Valer said.

“My role is to place the UK at the forefront of the global shift to Clean Growth. I firmly believe we will be able to safeguard existing jobs and local economies whilst creating new opportunities for prosperity. We will jointly reduce costs, risks, timescales and emissions whilst considering economic and policy implications and institutional reforms. We aim to create the world’s first net-zero carbon industrial cluster by 2040 and at least one low-carbon cluster by 2030.”

Maroto-Valer has been working at the Heriot-Watt University to create sustainable aviation fuel and the university was named as one of the finalists for a British Airways Future of Fuels challenge. University College London (UCL) was the eventual winner of the challenge, for a solution that turns household waste into fuel.

Net-zero growth

Tens of thousands of jobs could be created in the north of England as a result of decarbonisation, According to the Institute for Public Policy Research’s Risk or Reward report. As many as 46,000 jobs could be created in the power sector alone by 2030 – but the think tank was keen to stress there is a significant risk with around 28,000 job losses in the coal, oil and gas industries expected during the same period.

The latest Government figures reveal that turnover in the UK’s low-carbon economy was £46.7bn in 2018, up from £40.5bn in 2015. But the 2018 figure is still equivalent to just 1% of national non-financial turnover.

The loss of thousands of jobs between 2014 and 2016 has been attributed to policy changes such as cuts to solar power subsidies and the exclusion of onshore wind projects from the Contracts for Difference (CfD) auction process, compounded by slow policy progress in the transport sector.

UK Science Minister, Chris Skidmore MP, said: “The UK is committed to slashing carbon emissions and tackling climate change, which is why we became the first major economy to legislate for net-zero.

“The new centre delivers on our ambitions by bringing together leading experts to generate new ideas to accelerate the reduction of emissions across industrial sectors like manufacturing and automotive.”

The announcement comes as Peel L&P Environmental and the North West Hydrogen Alliance (NWHA) have reiterated calls that support from Government could unlock £4bn in investment and 33,000 jobs if the North West can become the first UK’s first low-carbon industrial cluster by 2030.

Matt Mace

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