The Tees Valley is on fire. Or at least it burned for roughly a century when over forty iron and steel companies were based in the Teesside area, particularly in or around Middlesborough
in the North East of the UK. But by the 1970s, the once hot fire began to smolder and almost died completely, as steel production migrated to emerging markets.
Now the region is on fire again, ignited by Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen who succeeded in attracting dozens of investors to do business in the region. In addition to increased tax revenues for the region and thousands of new jobs, Teesside International Airport is one of the key drivers of the evolving model of a local circular economy. This was illustrated by Airport CEO Phil Forster at the recent TIACA Regional Symposium.
First net zero industrial cluster
“We believe in a region that sells and serves a region,” the executive exclaimed, explaining his airport’s specific action plan to the 150+ attendees of the Amsterdam event. The approach differs considerably from the average airport strategies and is embedded in a broader, horizontal approach of driving business forward. Take pharmaceuticals, for instance: Teesside succeeded in aligning 66 different companies located within a 5-mile radius to commit to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, this way bettering their CO2 footprint. “By 2040, this will be the world’s first net zero industrial cluster,” Mr. Forster enthused. This will be the outcome of a joint effort based on a holistic sustainable strategy and far-reaching vision.
SAF produced on site
Pacemaker is the airport, determined to lead the pack by example. This is done step by step and very systematically. Largest single project is an SAF refinery that can be expanded depending on market demand. Airlines operating to/from Teesside Airport will benefit directly from this quantum leap in sustainable fuel production, but also the airport itself can power its own fleet of vehicles, pushbacks or forklifts environmentally friendly to meet the targeted net-zero agenda. SAF will be produced from waste feedstock collected from enterprises doing business in the region. A job to be looked after by Saudi Arabian firm alfanar that decided to invest up to £1billion in the production of SAF. The spent will support the Lighthouse Green Fuels (LGF) project in the Tees Valley and enable Teesside to become the first hydrogen powered airport from A to Z, forecasts Mr. Forster. This step is complemented by a photovoltaic system located within the airport fence to power cars lorries and other vehicles electrically. However, having a SAF production on site is not a USP of Teesside International Airport. Similarly benefits Austrian Airlines from a nearby SAF refinery at Vienna Airport based on photovoltaic, the largest in Austria.
Judged from a holistic perspective, road transports are kept to a minimum in case SAF stems from locally collected residuals and cooking oils. And not only produced, but also consumed by airlines, the airport, and its business partners, too. The example illustrates that the airport is leaving the path of linear economy step by step and is on its way to transit its business processes to a circular economy. This makes Teesside Airport a benchmark for the industry because it promotes the useful life of products and materials by creating loops for active reuse.
More is to come
However, the airport management is already thinking ahead, says Phil Forster: “We are looking to now develop key partnerships and have a number of additional grant and incentive schemes available that could lead to significant commercial opportunities.” Which ones these are, he did not specify at the TIACA meet. However, they could be very large since the place can offer investors 280+ acres of undeveloped land on the south-side of the runway. International brands of the logistics and e-commerce industry have knocked already on his door, he indicates. So did U.S. integrator FedEx some time ago that has meanwhile established a distribution center on-site. Strategically advantageous for imports and exports, but above all for the nationwide distribution of goods from the TEE Valley to Scotland, Wales or Sussex, is also the geographical closeness of Teesside Freeport. It is the UK’s biggest and first operational Freeport. A vital enabler for growth, Teesside Freeport is focused on manufacturing Net Zero, this way supporting the sustainability efforts not only of the airport but the entire region.
Hence, the business fire keeps on burning in the North East of England, creating jobs, upping tax revenues as done in the past. But soon, the burn in the Tees Valley – and this is the difference to the old days – will be climate neutral and thus has a completely new quality.
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