A HOST of major names in Hampshire business have pledged to drastically cut pollution and produce more sustainable fuels.

The Solent Cluster aims to take the region from being a big producer of CO2 emissions to making a major contribution towards the UK’s “net zero” efforts.

A key part of the initiative will be developing new hydrogen and lower carbon fuel facilities at ExxonMobil’s Fawley complex. The project aims to produce more sustainable fuel for sectors including shipping and aviation, as well as for heating.

The cluster is being led by Solent Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), ExxonMobil and the University of Southampton. Also among the 41 organisations signing a charter at the cluster’s launch in Southampton were Associated British Ports, British Airways, DP World, Red Funnel, Southampton Airport, Southampton FC and Wightlink.

Anne-Marie Mountifield, chief executive of Solent LEP, told the launch event: “This will safeguard existing jobs but we want to create new employment opportunities and we want to see technology and innovation shape tomorrow.

“In this room are people that have the opportunity to create real change globally in what’s the big issue of our time.”

The cluster could enable organisations to bid for government investment to help decarbonise and embrace new fuel technologies.

Matt Crocker, senior vice president of low carbon solutions at ExxonMobil, said: “Fawley stands ready to play its part in shaping the journey to start reducing carbon emissions from the Solent and beyond.”

He said the company had in the past been involved in positive change such as lead-free petrol, lower sulphur diesel and chemicals to cool electric vehicles. It had been producing hydrogen at Fawley for more than 50 years.

ExxonMobil had captured 120million tonnes of CO2 – 40 per cent of all the manmade CO2 that has ever been captured, he said. 

“ExxonMobil has a proven track record of executing major skilled infrastructure projects and it’s this capability that will help deliver the cluster,” he added.

Dr Lindsay-Marie Armstrong, associate professor of mechanical engineering and the cluster’s academic lead at the University of Southampton, said: “The Solent is recognised as one of the leading contributors of CO2 emissions, with approximately 3.2million metric tonnes of CO2 emissions released from energy-intensive manufacturing processes every year."

As well as helping prevent “catastrophic climate change”, she said decarbonisation could fuel economic growth and enable energy security.

“To form a decarbonisation cluster that spans the public, private and higher education sectors is a monumental step forward for the region," she said.

“It will introduce sustainable fuels for local transportation, the aviation and the shipping sectors; create low carbon energy to heat homes, businesses and public buildings; and open up new highly skilled jobs opportunities.”