Firms, universities, hospitals and research centres in the emerging Northern Powerhouse already generate £10.8bn annually in revenues from health and life sciences and offer huge potential for environmental careers.
But the continuing rapid growth of the green economy and forthcoming infrastructural investment in the Northern Powerhouse together are set to boost these opportunities considerably.
Current opportunities are confirmed in recent data from UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) up to 2015. It reveals that there are already more than 1,000 life science and health firms in the region, 97% of them small and medium sized, and at least three world-class research centres.
Careers in these sectors such as in biotechnology start-ups and established pharmaceutical players are very varied, but many have traditionally tended to be highly skilled and well paid, often with a large international focus.
In biosciences, much of the potential is available through research centres such as the £38m National Biologics Manufacturing Centre within the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) located in Darlington and Redcar in county Durham. This was launched in September.
It is also to host a £20m CPI Biologics Factory of the Future and is part of government’s high value manufacturing catapult network of technology and innovation centres.
Low-carbon energy is vital to meeting the UK’s five year carbon budgets, and the sector is set to receive a boost following approval of the Paris Agreement on climate change in December.
It is also a key area in CPI’s research work. Major topics include waste-to-energy, including anaerobic digestion, with testing benefiting from its National Industrial Biotechnology Facility. Other key areas include thin film organic photovoltaic (OPV) technologies, algal biofuels and energy efficiency technologies. Many of these have large export potential.
Not all has gone smoothly though. A £700m project to build the largest plasma waste gasification project in Billingham has been scrapped after developer Air Products pulled out in April.
The move throws into sharp focus the need to expand research in all other leading edge energy technologies to maintain momentum of the region’s green economy. It is also a reminder of the risks innovators must face in driving the green economy forward.
It would be a mistake to view research in health, life sciences and environmental technology as completely separate, silo activities. There is potential for the traditional life sciences and even medical research to exploit new markets through convergence with the growing green economy, generating a whole new set of career opportunities.
To give just one example, findings on issues such as individual response to toxins can ultimately lead through multi-disciplinary innovation to better informed setting of air and water pollution limit values. Increased human health concerns and demand for greater action on air and water pollution can together be expected to drive innovation in the green economy.