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UK’s Solent Cluster courts Gulf for green investment

'International partnerships are crucial,' says Anne-Marie Mountifield, chair of The Solent Cluster Supplied/Solent Cluster
'International partnerships are crucial,' says Anne-Marie Mountifield, chair of The Solent Cluster
  • Emirates joined network in January
  • Sustainable aviation fuel proposal
  • Six ‘anchor’ projects for region

The Solent Cluster, a network of 114 companies with interests on the English south coast, is considering working with Gulf companies to deliver $15 billion of green investment. 

The group is prioritising decarbonisation and among its proposals are a sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) plant for which Dubai’s national carrier Emirates and other airlines could become customers. 

SAF is made from non-oil feedstocks and is an alternative fuel for air transport. The aviation industry accounted for two percent of global emissions in 2022, according to the International Energy Agency. 

Emirates joined the Solent Cluster in January, becoming its second Middle East member after DP World, which operates a container terminal at the Port of Southampton.

Other members include Associated British Ports, Airbus, ExxonMobil, Veolia and Siemens.

The Solent region includes the port cities of Southampton and Portsmouth and the strait between Great Britain and the Isle of Wight. 

As well as being vital for shipping, the area houses Exxonmobil’s Fawley petrochemicals complex which accounts for 20 percent of UK refinery capacity and supplies 10 percent of Europe’s gas demand. 

Fawley also delivers 25 percent of the total aviation fuel used at London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports.

Anne-Marie Mountifield, the chair of Solent Cluster, told AGBI that there is a “recognition that the Solent has some very heavy industries that need to decarbonise”.

The organisation published a report last year setting out how the region can push economic growth while contributing to the UK’s target of reaching net zero by 2050.

The report proposes six main projects to get underway by 2027, representing a $15 billion investment opportunity and 18,900 new jobs by 2035. 

The projects include a 1.4 gigawatt blue hydrogen plant; an SAF plant at Fawley with a capacity of 200,000 tonnes per year; a carbon capture facility at Veolia’s Marchwood plant; an offshore carbon storage plant and two green hydrogen plants totalling 400 megawatts.

In November ExxonMobil secured $8 million to assess the feasibility of the SAF plant, as part of the UK government’s Jet Zero Strategy to deliver net zero aviation by 2050. The study is underway and expected to conclude this year, ExxonMobil said. 

Emirates completed two test flights in Dubai last year using 100 percent sustainable fuel, and its first commercial flight using a mix (40 percent SAF and 60 percent conventional) was to Sydney in October.

The airline also struck a deal with Shell Aviation for the supply of 300,000 gallons of blended fuel to Dubai International Airport.

“The Solent Cluster has strong potential to power clean energy production and is another step forward in our journey towards long-term SAF adoption within our network,” said Emirates president Tim Clark.

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