England's North East - still a powerhouse of industry and innovation (Day 323)

England's North East - still a powerhouse of industry and innovation (Day 323)

15th April 2015

For a long time now, my mantra has been “Chemical engineering matters.” If you've read anything by me, or listened to me speak, the message will have been loud and clear. And that’s why this principle is now embedded at the core of IChemE.

Playing table football at the North East annual dinner with Teesside Member Group Chair, Adrian Northey

But sometimes even I am overwhelmed by just how strongly other people feel the same way. And my recent visit to Teesside, in England's North East, was one of those times.

I had the privilege of addressing the North East IChemE annual dinner, as well as visiting several sites in the area where chemical engineers are creating sustainable solutions for a wide range of challenges. Time and again, I was impressed by the dedication and achievements of the people I met.

They demonstrate how chemical engineering is keeping the wheels of industry turning at full speed in the North East and around the world, and also transforming the way we live and work.

Meeting young chemical engineers at SITA, Huddersfield

Take SITA (whose parent company is SUEZ environnement), for instance. I met some very inspiring young chemical engineers at their impressive 'waste to energy' facility in Huddersfield.

A visit to the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) at Teesside University gave me a chance to appreciate a raft of novel solutions for formulation, industrial biotechnology, printable electronics, and more.

And at Fujifilm, also in Teesside, I saw how chemical engineering is bringing innovation to the production of high-value bio pharmaceutical products.

During my time in the North East, I was also reassured again about the future of chemical engineering – which, of course, lies in the young people entering and studying the discipline today.

The UK as a whole has had a tremendous upswing in applications to university courses: from 5,000 at the turn of the century, applications have risen to well over 20,000 last year.

This has encouraged the initiation of several new chemical engineering departments, and several existing departments - including Teesside University - expanding their intake.

The students I met at Teesside University during my voyage around the North East were so enthusiastic about their subject, and so convinced of its power to engineer the future, I could not help but be elated.

But we can't lose sight of the present while we’re getting excited about the future. And I find the role of chemical engineering in the North East's contribution to the UK's economic and competitive present equally exciting.

Teesside is still the second largest integrated chemical complex in Western Europe in terms of manufacturing capacity. The North East Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC) says there are more than 1,400 companies employing 190,000 people in the chemical supply chain in the region. They generate £26 billion in sales per year. And they export £12 billion worth of goods each year.

Many employers in the area have IChemE members on their payroll: companies such as Invista, Jacobs, Johnson Matthey-Davy, ABB and SABIC. But it's not just about jobs. Companies like these are encouraging their staff to join in IChemE activities, as well as paying subscriptions. I'm sure you appreciate their contribution to our mission as much as I do.

Together, we can continue to bang the drum for chemical engineering and its profound importance to jobs, lives and a sustainable future for the North East, the UK and the world at large.