PHILIP ALDRIDGE, an IChemE member who has taken over as CEO of England’s Northeast Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC), spoke with The Chemical Engineer about his plans for the group, which works with its member companies to support growth in the region.
“We have a natural cluster up here in the northeast of England,” he said, referring to the region’s concentration of process industries. It is home to companies that produce a wide range of products including petrochemicals, fine and speciality chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and biofuels, in turn supporting some 1,400 companies either directly or through the supply chain.
“To gain the benefit of that cluster you need cluster organisations such as NEPIC. I know that in most of Europe those cluster organisations are government-funded and we’re not, so it makes it more difficult for us but I want to grow our membership so more supply chain companies as well as manufacturers gain the benefit of NEPIC membership.
“We have a really rich supply chain which often isn’t very visible. I want to try and expose that for the benefit of the economy in the northeast of England.”
Aldridge holds a Master’s degree in biochemical engineering. His previous roles include technical management roles within GSK in the UK and US, and he has extensive pharmaceutical process development and manufacturing experience in the fields of antibiotics and biopharmaceuticals.
Asked if he expects his bioprocessing background will shape his priorities, Aldridge said he does not expect a change in focus.
“We have a lot of organisations [in the process sectors] with a similar set of challenges, in terms of skills, new technology, ageing assets, safety, and accessing the rich supply chain that exists in the northeast. I’d rather emphasise the similarities across processing sectors rather than saying I was going to do anything especially in the biotech space.”
The region has been put forward as key site for helping decarbonise the UK’s heating network, and a proving ground for CCS technology. Northern Gas Networks has suggested building four steam methane reformers in Teesside to convert the natural gas that arrives there form the North Sea into hydrogen, which would be fed into the UK’s existing gas network, providing greener heating.
The northeast is also home to the Teesside Collective, a group supported by NEPIC and made up of energy-intensive industries that have submitted plans to government about how it can help establish a CCS-equipped industrial zone.
Aldridge said he hopes the government will help in this regard.
“It’s so important where we have this world-class strength we leverage it for the UK rather than letting other places like Rotterdam take the lead.”
Asked what his immediate priorities are, Aldridge says he is currently in “information-gathering mode” and will be meeting with members to better understand what they want from NEPIC.
“I feel privileged and excited to be offered this leadership position within NEPIC. I am looking forward to working with the team, NEPIC members and the board, to strengthen further the process sector in the region.”