Rare earth site for Hull targets 2022 start date

The firm behind a new multimillion pound chemical processing plant destined for Yorkshire is to begin hiring staff as early as next month and could be operational by the second half of 2022, its boss has said.

The sun setting behind Saltend Chemicals Park, in Hull. Picture James Hardisty.

British firm Pensana revealed plans in early December to create 100 jobs in Saltend, Hull, with a new processing site for rare earth, one of the key components of the offshore wind and electric vehicle industries.

The site would be one of only two such facilities outside of China and could create as much as 500 more jobs in the supply chain.

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Pensana chairman Paul Atherley said his firm wanted to invest into bringing rare earth processing to the UK.

China is currently home to the vast majority of rare earth processing to produce permanent magnets, which are used in all offshore wind turbines and 90 per cent of electric cars.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Mr Atherley said: “This is a serious business.

“It will turn over several hundred million pounds a year and it will require an enormous amount of services in the form of power, labour, water etc.

“And it will create a lot of service jobs.

“I personally wanted to bring something to the UK. But the second reason [was that the] processing of rare earths is very chemically complex and that is what the UK is very good at.”

He added: “We think being part of the permanent magnet supply chain helps create jobs in the UK.

“We want to create them for the offshore wind industry but also, very importantly, for electric vehicles because 90 per cent of all electric vehicles have around two kilos of permanent magnet inside them. Permanent magnets are the critical technology for these industries and are two key industries for the green industrial revolution.”

Mr Atherley said that Pensana looked at three potential UK bases in Merseyside, Teesside and the Humber, with the latter’s Salt End Chemical Park proving to be the most attractive.

“It is a plug-in and play chemical factory park, like a WeWork for chemical factories,” he said.

“It will allow us to focus on the work we do and not have to worry about all the other services because they are provided on site. Probably the other way to look at it is, it’s doing what Salt End and the Humber is good at.

“The Humber is world class, it is not just that there is a nice processing site on the north bank of the Humber estuary. This is a world class ecosystem. You have a European-facing port complex that will hopefully become a Freeport.”

The proposed site still has to be approved by planning officials but, if successful, construction work could begin next year.

“Broadly we want to commence construction in mid 2021 and to be in production of the second half of 2022,” said Mr Atherley. “But we are actually spending money now.

“We are already employing consultants and advisers. We should have our first employees in January and from there we will build up the workforce.

“This is about creating a supply chain. If you create the product which is magnum oxide you can then start making magnets and they go into all of these other industries. If you don’t do that, it gets created somewhere else.”

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