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The Socio-technical Dynamics of Net-zero Industrial Megaprojects: Outside-in and Inside-out Analyses of the Humber Industrial Cluster


Although energy-intensive industries are often seen as ‘hard-to-decarbonise’, net-zero megaprojects for industrial clusters promise to improve the technical and economic feasibility of hydrogen fuel switching and carbon capture and storage (CCS). Mobilising insights from the megaproject literature, this paper analyses the dynamics of an ambitious first-of-kind net-zero megaproject in the Humber industrial cluster in the United Kingdom, which includes CCS and hydrogen infrastructure systems, industrial fuel switching, CO2 capture, green and blue hydrogen production, and hydrogen storage. To analyse the dynamics of this emerging megaproject, the article uses a socio-technical system lens to focus on developments in technology, actors, and institutions. Synthesising multiple megaproject literature insights, the paper develops a comprehensive framework that addresses both aggregate (‘outside-in’) developments and the endogenous (‘inside-out’) experiences and activities regarding three specific challenges: technical system integration, actor coordination, and institutional alignment. Drawing on an original dataset involving expert interviews (N = 46), site visits (N = 7), and document analysis, the ‘outside-in’ analysis finds that the Humber megaproject has progressed rapidly from outline visions to specific technical designs, enacted by new coalitions and driven by strengthening policy targets and financial support schemes. The complementary ‘inside-out’ analysis, however, also finds 12 alignment challenges that can delay or derail materialisation of the plans. While policies are essential aggregate drivers, institutional misalignments presently also prevent project-actors from finalising design and investment decisions. Our analysis also finds important tensions between the project's high-pace delivery focus (to meet government targets) and allowing sufficient time for pilot projects, learning-by-doing, and design iterations.

Funding source: This work was supported by the UKRI ISCF Industrial Challenge within the UK Industrial Decarbonisation Research and Innovation Centre (IDRIC) award number: EP/V027050/1.
Related subjects: Policy & Socio-Economics

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