University of Chester acquires Shell Technology Centre

1 March 2013
By Sofia Mitra-Thakur
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The University of Chester will take over the Shell R&D centre

The University of Chester will take over the Shell R&D centre

Oil giant Shell has donated its largest R&D centre in the UK, based in Cheshire, to a university in a move which could lead to the creation of 2,000 new jobs.

The company had previously announced plans to close Shell Technology Centre, Thornton, and consolidate research and development facilities elsewhere.

It has now been confirmed that the University of Chester will take over the 66-acre site, which includes 48 science and engineering buildings.

The university said the plan means Thornton, which opened 75 years ago, will remain at the "forefront of scientific research".

It now intends to use the site to raise student numbers by around 500 and provide support services to more than 20 small and medium sized businesses.

Other proposals, including a science park with communal laboratory space, will mean Thornton has the potential to create thousands of jobs, the university said.

Vice-chancellor, Professor Tim Wheeler, said: "Our commitment at Thornton could bring up to 2,000 jobs to the area over the next five years, together with perpetuating Shell's distinguished reputation."

"The university's vision for the Thornton site is to build on the excellent foundations laid by Shell to create an internationally-recognised, financially self-sustaining and multi-disciplinary campus that targets and stimulates private sector growth through employment, education and inward investment. It will integrate students with employers and employees.”

As a registered charity, the university said it will take legal ownership through a "gifting" agreement with Shell, and the site will be renamed the Shell Technology Campus and form part of its Faculty of Engineering and Technology.

Ed Daniels, chairman of Shell UK added: "We are delighted to have reached an agreement with the University of Chester which will ensure that innovation and technology will remain a key contributor to the local and regional economy and community and which builds on Shell's long history of manufacturing and technical innovation in the region."

The announcement was welcomed by universities minister David Willetts, who said: "The research and innovation centre in Thornton will act as a real hub for students and local businesses to develop their ideas, commercialise them and take them into the market place."

"Not only has the site got the potential to generate new jobs, it will also contribute to the UK’s growing technology sector, building links between the university and industry. In turn that will give a real boost to economic growth and keep the UK at the front of the global race for technology and innovation."

Andrew Miller MP, Ellesmere Port and Neston, who is also Chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee added: "Thornton has the potential to be a world class chemical innovation centre in the high tech engineering sectors.

"This is a model that transcends party politics, and the partnership between industry, trade bodies and the university will ensure that the site delivers its true potential.”

The university’s occupancy will be phased over the next 18 months, as Shell continues to hand over the site, which includes purpose-built laboratories, petrochemical fuel analysis facilities, workshops, engine testing cells and offices, together with a gym and sports pitches and a restaurant.

The university said the campus would build on its existing strengths in food, health and occupational health and safety, with curriculum development allied with the engineering, chemical and automotive industries.

New subjects will include:

• Geotechnical Engineering.

The North West has almost 20 per cent of the brownfield land awaiting redevelopment in the English regions, with issues associated with the impact of industrial history, such as subsidence and land contamination.

Flood risk due to climate change is also a concern for many of the region’s properties and the North West has an increasingly prominent role to play in securing UK energy needs of the next decade. Such local considerations will form part of the students’ syllabus.

• Mechanical Engineering.

Established and emerging industries relating to areas as diverse as vehicle design and renewable energy and sustainability use the latest computer-aided systems to design innovative solutions to engineering problems.

At Thornton, students will learn skills and knowledge which is directly applicable to these areas.

• Electronic/Electrical Engineering.

This will teach students how to meet the challenge of finding technical solutions for a new generation of high performance products and services, such as power systems and IT devices.

Initially, for students admitted for entry in 2014, two existing buildings will be adapted, to provide a learning resource centre, teaching spaces and laboratories.

These will be occupied by academic and support staff, including technicians, librarians, administrators and those involved in business development and IT.

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