More jobs for our region: are they sustainable?

Our region has just received excellent news on job creation. On Tyneside the foundation structures for wind turbine generators destined for the North Sea are to be built, whilst steel production is to resume on Teesside. Further, on Wearside the manufacture of a new model at Nissan is going ahead.

From a sustainability point of view the three are different.

Tyneside

We should all rejoice at this news about the wind turbine foundations. While much of the work in turbine manufacture together with their transportation and installation in the North Sea will result in CO2 emissions, once installed the turbines will generate emission-free electricity for many decades.

A UK Energy Research Centre review of many studies indicates that net CO2 savings from modern turbines will be significant compared with generation from fossil fuels. Moreover, if the Government's plans for power cable links to Iceland and northern Europe go ahead then the main disadvantage of wind-generated power - its intermittent nature - will be reduced.

Wearside

Nearly everyone will be pleased by the news from Wearside. If I were a Nissan worker, or involved with any of the companies in its supply chain, I'd be over the moon. Most of us want cars and Nissan is trying hard to reduce CO2 emissions both during their manufacture and when they are being used.

Teesside

Most of us will be pleased by developments on Teesside, where jobs are desperately needed. No one wants to pour cold water on news of job creation for a region that has lost much of its manufacturing base. Making steel however requires coal and produces much CO2. But, we need more steel (including for car making) and will continue to need it until suitable materials are found to replace it (and their production will not be energy-free).

There is an alternative approach - creating an economic/business environment that provides incentives to devise ways of making steel without emitting CO2. There are already instances where CO2 (waste) from one manufacturing process is fed to a coupled process that uses it as a raw material. One of these instances is actually on Teesside, where CO2 from the production of ammonia (used to make fertiliser) is utilised in tomato production. (CO2 is an essential ingredient for plant photosynthesis.) Furthermore, current research is finding ways of synthesising chemicals and fuels using CO2 as a raw material.

So, why doesn't the UK government offer incentives to industry to devise processes in which steel making is coupled to manufacture that uses CO2? The products and processes and the knowledge of such innovations can be exported, enhancing more sustainable economic growth and employment of real value.

Alan Myers
26 April 2012