For helping the energy industry find—and deliver—low-carbon solutions
“Helping to achieve net zero emissions is the biggest challenge facing young project leaders today, so our generation should have a say on how we get there,” says Johnnie Stark.
And he’s making sure his voice is heard as BP’s project manager for the ambitious Net Zero Teesside (NZT) Power initiative, a flagship project to deliver the world’s first commercial-scale gas-fired power station with an integrated carbon capture facility. Beyond providing eco-friendly electricity to about 1.3 million homes in northeast England, it will help the U.K. government reach its commitment to decarbonize the electric grid by 2035—and establish a blueprint for other energy projects.
When it begins operating (scheduled to happen later this decade), NZT Power will capture over 95% of the carbon dioxide produced by the power station and store it offshore in the North Sea. That’s about five percentage points above the target for similar projects.
“We’re looking to capture substantially more carbon than anyone has done in the post-combustion space globally,” Stark says. “We’re pushing the boundaries of what’s possible.”
Stark has cultivated a reputation for redefining limits in more than a decade of work at BP. After starting as a mechanical engineer, he shifted to project management “to have more influence on the larger project plan.” His first project involved shutting down oil pipelines in the North Sea for two weeks of essential maintenance—work that needed to be completed on time since the pipeline transports more 100,000 barrels of oil per day. He was also part of the Greater Tortue liquified natural gas project, which helped Mauritania and Senegal on the path to energy independence by delivering a lower-cost, reliable power source to the West African countries.
And now Stark is focused squarely on helping BP rethink sustainability. “Energy companies have an immensely talented set of people with experience solving the world’s most complicated problems and leading project delivery,” he says. “If energy companies want to remain relevant, they have to deliver world-class, low-carbon solutions to tackle climate change.”
For NZT Power, Stark and his project team have spent the past two years developing the front-end engineering design. When the project enters the execution phase, which could happen as early as 2024, Stark and the 150-member team will mushroom to about 2,000 on-site and another 500 in the project offices. Managing such a complex undertaking requires “a nimble mindset,” he says. “It helps you embrace change and uncertainty.”
The project’s social impact goals will also carry through to the construction phase. NZT Power is developing plans for low-carbon concrete and steel and could even reuse products from Teesside’s steelworks. In addition, BP will prioritize gender and racial equity among both field and office team members.
As the father of two small children, Stark can appreciate the opportunity to work on a project with the potential to make a real difference. “My 6-year-old is now getting to the age where he wants to know what Mommy and Daddy do for jobs,” he says. “It gives me a real sense of pride when I can tell him I’m helping make the world a little bit better.”
Q&A: Johnnie Stark on the audacity of youth and the inspiration of Isambard Kingdom Brunel
How are young people changing the world of projects now?
Young people are more passionate and purpose-driven than ever before. They’re more open to challenging the status quo and demanding more ethical and transparent ways of working.
What famous person would you want to recruit for your team?
Isambard Kingdom Brunel, a British engineer who was pivotal in the Industrial Revolution. His projects weren’t always a success, but his determination and innovation would help us as we seek solutions to complex problems.