March 2023 heralded a landmark moment for the West Midlands region, with our mayor Andy Street signing a ground-breaking devolution deal to procure powers for the region from central government. Part of these powers allow increased autonomy for the region in terms of meeting climate targets. These new powers tied in with the launch of the Black Country Cluster plan, one of the net zero industrial clusters launched by UKRI along with other large industrial complexes such as South Wales, Humberside, Teesside and Merseyside.
This launch was the culmination of the Repowering the Black Country project, aimed at delivering a masterplan to assist in regional decarbonisation. The project was sponsored by InnovateUK and featured many partners including local businesses; CR+, District Eating, Pro Enviro, Camirus along with the Black Country Local Enterprise Partnership, and University of Birmingham, Warwick Manufacturing Group (University of Warwick) and University of Loughborough as academic partners.
As part of this launch event, Andy Street, held a meeting with representatives of the local Industrial Advisory Board, to discuss some of the immediate challenges faced by local businesses, such as energy prices and support as well as next steps to decarbonise.
Through the Repowering the Black Country project the consortium developed plans for multiple “Zero-Carbon Hubs” across the Black Country region, helping local metals industry, chemicals industry and vehicle manufacturing industries to decarbonise, through a range of energy efficiency and fuel substitution options. Examples of these can be observed on the virtual zero carbon hub published as part of the project, demonstrating some of the technologies to be implemented.
The University of Birmingham’s role within the Repowering project and associated cluster masterplan entailed understanding the method of accounting for decarbonisation, and to gain a greater understanding of how the launch of the cluster would impact other regions of the UK. Within this scope, University of Birmingham through a project team of Dr Thomas Fender, Dr Amruta Joshi, Dr Suraj Paneru, Dr Neha Metha and Dr Jonathan Radcliffe have ensured to keep the region within the national zeitgeist through involvement in the Industrial Decarbonisation Research and Innovation Centre (IDRIC) with complementary projects both within Phase 1 & 2 funding.
The Black Country itself is a region rich in manufacturing heritage, and home to many small and medium sized enterprises, which has been observed to be indicative of many of the industrial hinterlands of the UK. Thus, any knowledge and expertise gained on industrial decarbonisation of these local businesses is directly applicable to other regions.
Whilst the launch symbolises the end of the Repowering the Black Country project, the experience and expertise gained will live on as part of the National Centre for Manufacturing Transition (NCMT), aiding local industries in their attempts to decarbonise. With the launch of the NCMT, the future of the Black Country, could be described as rather green.
The launch also coincided with the re-opening of the Black Country Living Museum with their event “Red by Night”. Representatives of the University were also in attendance to help educate the visitors on the Black Country and wider West Midlands regions’ green future, engaging with children and adults alike to discuss the excellent work ongoing at UoB in the field of regional decarbonisation.