How the New Woodsmith Mine near Whitby will Boost The Economy
The new, state-of-the-art Woodsmith Mine, near Whitby, will target the extraction of the world’s largest polyhalite source. We spoke to Matt Parsons, External Affairs General Manager of the project, about what it means for the Tees Valley and the North
The Woodsmith Mine, built near Whitby, will make Sirius Minerals the leading producer in multi-nutrient fertilizers – not just in the UK, but in the world. The mine will extract quality polyhalite fertilizer to trade within a global market over the next 100 years.
The fertilizer will be extracted via two mine shafts that will extend to depths that equate to the same height as the Eiffel Tower. The material will then be transported under the North York Moors to Teesport on a conveyer belt system via an underground tunnel. From there it will be granulated at a materials handling facility in Teesport, with the majority being exported to overseas markets.
Unlike blended or compound fertilizer, polyhalite is available in its natural state. There are no chemical separation or other industrial processes involved, meaning it’s a safe, environmentally-friendly product that satisfies the world’s growing need for sustainability in farming.
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All that is needed to do to polyhalite to make it serviceable is to mine, crush, screen and bag it, making it ready for the market as polysulphate. Because polyhalite has a low carbon footprint, growers can achieve the carbon targets demanded by retailers and some food processors, whilst still seeing high yields and strong crop quality.
While Brexit poses an uncertainty and with ports coming under certain threat, this will shine a positive light on Teesside. As Matt explains, ‘it's going to have large-scale economic and social benefits for Yorkshire, and the North, and the UK as a whole.
An independent report was released earlier this year by a specialist consultancy called QUAD, and they forecast that our exports at full production would be approximately £2.5 billion a year. That means that Sirus will contribute to a seven percent decrease in the UK's balance trade deficit.’
‘With Brexit, we need to be an outward-looking nation, and exporting all around the world is crucial,’ says Matt. ‘It's exciting to think that our project can help have a positive impact on the country as a whole. On a more local level, our contribution to the UK's GDP represents an increase in the size of the Tees Valley economy of 18 per cent and 17 per cent in North Yorkshire's economy.’
As well as having an impact on the economy, the mine will create over 4,000 jobs; over 1,000 directly with Sirius Minerals, the rest through a range of other projects, including STEM – an education-based project run by the company – and also The Sirius Foundation charity, an independent charity set up by the company to share the benefits of the project with the wider community.
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During operations, Sirius will contribute 0.5 percent of its revenues to the Sirius Foundation and, at full production, this will amount to around £13 million per year – a lot of money for projects that will benefit the local area.
‘These are community projects, building community facilities and sports clubs, and giving general support,’ Matt explains. ‘We've just contributed £2 million towards the foundation and the first £300,000 of that was awarded to 80 small projects between Scarborough and Redcar.’
The next programme of funding has just been opened for applications, with a specific focus on skills development. Organisations can apply directly to the Foundation for funding. Sirius Minerals also have their own education outreach program called STEM, targeted at increasing the skills and aspirations of young people in the area.
‘We are the sponsors for Scarborough Engineering and Science Week, and have been for the last few years,’ says Matt. ‘Science Week is going to be taking place in October, and over the last few years more than 70 or 80 schools have engaged with it – resulting in thousands of young people learning more about science.’
‘We want to increase the skills and raise the awareness of young people in a broad range of science-related careers. A large proportion of our jobs will need people with a skill set and an interest in these jobs. But it's not just about us for us – shortage of people with those skills across the board and it's about working with other businesses and other employers to increase the supply of those skills coming through. So we will be working on sponsoring events and further education to encourage growth in these skill sets and areas.’
The Woodsmith Mine will boost the economy of the UK, focus on education in the North and create jobs in the region – all without affecting the stunning North York Moors. ‘We're aware that we are building and developing this project in the North York Moors National Park,’ says Matt, ‘and we've come up with a design that is sensitive to the area so everything that we are doing at the mine site is about reducing the number and size of the buildings and keeping them mostly below the surface whenever possible.
‘You're not going to be able to see the mine site from the outside at all. We recognise, building a project of this nature, that there are things we can do and are doing to limit the impact in terms of noise, light and construction work. There's over 100 planning conditions that we must adhere to in developing the mine and we're working closely with the National Park to ensure we are doing that.’
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Work is now underway below the North York Moors, with the goal to be extracting the first polyhalite from the mine by the end of 2021. Once it’s ready, it will be shipped out of Teesport to a host of countries that have already partnered with Sirius Minerals to buy the organic fertilizer.
‘We’ve already got advance supply contracts for almost six million tonnes per annum from North America, Central America, South East Asia, China, and Africa so we are looking to export all across the world,’ Matt explains. ‘So while we're building a mine in Yorkshire, and the processing facilities in Teesside, that's just the beginning, if you like, for producing a product that's going to help to feed the world.’