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The Northeast of England Process Industry Cluster: Creating sustainable growth

17 September 2012

The Northeast of England Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC) is a stand-alone, not-for-profit company owned by its member companies set up to represent them and the supply chain of the Process Industry in the region.

The Cluster is centred around the needs of chemistry-using industries and includes companies in the chemical, petrochemical, polymer, specialty chemical, fine chemical, pharmaceutical, biotechnology, composites, bioresources, biofuels, renewable materials and energy companies in the Northeast. 

Socio-economic studies show that the process sector has over 35,000 direct employees and some 190,000 indirect employees in the region, together representing over one third of the industrial economy of the northeast. Companies in the Cluster manufacture around 50% of the UK’s petrochemicals and around 35% of its pharmaceuticals, significantly contributing towards making the Northeast the only net exporting region of the UK with over £13 billion of exports.

Member companies collaborate through the Cluster to promote the region's industrial capabilities and build its skills base. At the same time, it acts as a conduit to identify innovation and investment projects, as well as new business opportunities.

Another area of focus is to encourage a more sustainable economy in the region by encouraging low carbon manufacturing processes.

Since its formation, the Cluster set up a number of strategic teams to help identify, develop and deliver key projects. The role of the NEPIC industry leadership team is, for example, ”to provide industry leadership to define and prioritise what is needed to sustain existing and attract new process industries to North East England."

Other teams cover growth and investment, marketing and communication, productivity and efficiency, SME development and trade, innovation, engineering for process industries, integrated manufacturers forum, northeast bioresources and renewables (see and the process industry carbon capture and storage initiative (Piccsi).

“The Northeast region is very much open for business” - NEPIC CEO Dr Stan Higgins
“The Northeast region is very much open for business” - NEPIC CEO Dr Stan Higgins

The skills and education team works closely with the National Skills Academy for the Process Industry, and indeed NEPIC was one of key drivers behind the establishment of this crucial body. 

NEPIC also partners with other EU cluster organisations to work on Europe-wide industry projects, and has numerous Memoranda of Understanding in place with clusters in Brazil, India, China and elsewhere around the globe.

NEPIC’s CEO, Dr Stan Higgins, was nominated as EU Cluster manager of the year in 2010, with a special commendation for excellence in engagement, communication and level of support for members.

Sometimes the value of the work of Cluster organisations is hard to estimate, but NEPIC has put systems in place to gather data. Interactions with companies are carefully recorded and the outputs logged and signed off by directors of the companies concerned, with the final results being independently audited for members and funding sources. 

The results of this show that it has contributed to the creation of more than £1 billion of added value to the region's economy, and has safeguarded or created 3,364 jobs.

According to the Chemical Industries Association, each job in the process sector in the UK generates more than £92,000 per annum of value to the UK economy, around 25% more per job than other high earning sectors such as aerospace or automobiles. The Cluster was funded by £1 million per year over that period, provided jointly by industry and the public sector, and thus generated over 166 times the investment made.

Examples of NEPIC’s activities include support for the new syngas energy unit at Seals Sands being built by Air Products. NEPIC’s Bioresources Group (NEBR) has been working with Air Products for several years providing investment advice and helping to build relationships with local supply chain companies, which will be providing the feedstock for the unit.

This is an important project for the local economy, as the production of significant amounts of renewable syngas will require a substantial infrastructure and supply chain, and will be one of the key future raw materials for a significant proportion of the chemistry-based process industry in the region. It will also help make process industries more sustainable by reducing their carbon footprint. 

“Other projects in the news recently have included Akzo Nobel, Ineos Bio, SNF, Pyreco and Sembcorp’s waste-to-energy plant, as well as the reopening of the ENSUS biorefinery. These follow some 30 other significant investments totalling several billion pounds in NEPIC’s footprint over the last six years,” said CEO Dr Stan Higgins.

“Recent announcements such as the Air Products project, together with the opening of the Mitsubishi Battery Chemical plant, the recent doubling of capacity at Huntsman Tioxide, the SITA waste management up-scaling, the reopening of the SSI blast furnace, new developments at EPAX Pharma and Lotte Chemicals, and the expansion of PET and Cleveland Potash clearly demonstrate that this region is very much open for business,” he added.

Syngas and other technologies will be discussed at the NEPIC International Bioresources Conference on Thursday 22 November 2012 at the Vermont Hotel in Newcastle upon Tyne.  The conference objectives are to get global organisations talking to each other, sharing knowledge, tackling complex issues and topics and seeking opportunities for collaboration, business growth and investment. 

For membership information see or email

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