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Page last updated at 16:30 GMT, Wednesday, 3 March 2010
A new manufacturing industry?
Ensus plant at Wilton
Bioethanol is being made at the the Ensus plant on Teesside.

As part of BBC Look North's Big Question, this month we're asking "Why don't we make anything anymore?".

We've looked at the arguments over whether or not it's cheaper to take manufacturing overseas.

Now we consider whether there could be a bright future, particularly on Teesside for a new style of manufacturing.

Could the rise of 'green' industries provide manufacturing with a new lease of life?

Niche market

Linda Muir can barely believe the transformation of the Jarrow factory of her employer, electrical resistor company HVR. She's worked there for 28 years but the company's move into making parts for wind turbines has turned the business into a fast-growing outfit.

As factory supervisor Linda says the last three years have been an ever-upwards ride, after finding a niche market in 'green' manufacturing, and company director Stephen Elliott confirms the growth . Three years ago company turnover was £4m, today it's about £8m. The workforce has doubled to about 125 in the same space of time.

This could be one of the manufacturing industries of the future. The government has promoted the north east as being the place at the centre of a low-carbon economy. Wind turbines, wave power, green fuels and energy are all part of the plan, and HVR's experience shows that it may not necessarily be all hyperbole.

"I don't think we appreciated where we could take the product, or how far. And also I don't think we appreciated the scale of which the business was going to grow," says Stephen Elliott.

"We didn't appreciate that renewable energy was going to take off, but when you've got countries like China turning round, and saying that by a certain date they expect to have 10 per cent of their generating capacity with wind turbines, then this is a massive amount of electrical energy and consequently a huge number of wind turbines to produce."

Making fuel from wheat

And on Teesside there is hope - and evidence - that a new sector is springing up that could alleviate the job losses in the traditional industries, such as commodity chemical-making. The area is embracing low-carbon green technologies, and a brace of schemes and projects are either underway or planned.

Alwyn Hughes, chief executive of Ensus
Alwyn Hughes believes Teesside is the perfect place for his industry

The biggest of the lot is on the Wilton site. New company Ensus has built a £300m bioethanol plant. It will convert wheat into fuel that can then be mixed with petrol. The by-products will produce animal feed and carbon dioxide for the soft-drinks industry.

Striding proudly around his new fiefdom, Ensus chief executive Alwyn Hughes, says Teesside is the perfect place for this type of new chemistry.

"It's utilising the skills that ICI and other chemical companies have had on Teesside for the last 20, 30, 40 years. It's very much leveraging the skills and talents that Teesside has in abundance but applying them to this, what I think is a very exciting industry which is all about climate change and improving the environment."

The Ensus workforce of about 100 appears to have made the switch seamlessly. 26 year old Ross McMahon was a traditional apprentice in the traditional petro-chemical industry, but he's now a convert to this new way of working.

He has all the facts. Where the wheat will be brought in from - as far away as Lincolnshire and the Scottish Borders - how much will be used - a million tonnes a year - and a profound belief that this will be a long-term career with real prospects.

Light emitting wallpaper

Rather less tangible but with equally high hopes for being an industry of the future is the world of printable electronics. Sedgefield-based Polyphotonix falls into this category, part of a sector that could be worth about 100 billion pounds by 2020, and employ 50,000 workers by 2027.

Polyphotonix has pulled off the trick of being able to print light circuits onto any surface and over large areas. The upshot is products such as wallpaper that emits its own light, and a designer dress constantly changing colour.

Richard Kirk, the chief executive says this is a sector that will be producing the manufacturing jobs and prosperity of the future, "Architects for instance love this kind of material because we're able to change the landscape in the way that light is used. Imagine if light can be built into a wall or a floor or a ceiling.

"It no longer has to be a point source that's placed by an architect within a roof and illuminates just a certain area. It can actually emanate from all surfaces. It could be the tables, it could be the chairs. It's going to completely change the way light is used."

It's an exciting view of the future Richard Kirk holds out, and his riposte to those who might still ask the question 'why don't we make anything anymore?'

The answer is that we do. It's just probably not what you'd expect.

Do we send our business overseas?
03 Mar 10 |  TV & Radio

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