Austrian contractor Strabag has won a contract to build the first phase of an underground mineral transport system for a £3.2bn ($4.5bn) potash mine in northern England.
The company was chosen by Sirius Minerals to design and build the first, 13km section of a 37km tunnel to move polyhalite, a mineral salt used in fertiliser, from the Woodsmith Mine near the port of Whitby to Wilton on Teesside, where it will be processed.
Sirius said work on the "drive 1" section, which has a diameter of 4.7m, would begin immediately. Negotiations are continuing with other potential partners on the second and third stage tunnels.
In its quarterly update report, Sirius said Strabag "provided a compelling offer in terms of price, schedule, safety management and risk allocation".
A rendering of the harbour at Teesside that will be used to export fertiliser
Chris Fraser, the chief executive of Sirius, said: "Strabag brings with it world-leading tunnelling experience, a can-do attitude and another significant, well-aligned partner committed to the success of our project."
Sirius wants to achieve production capacity of 10 million tonnes a year by 2024. It says this will contribute £2.5bn to the UK’s annual exports and create 2,500 jobs in the mine and its supply chain.
Polyhalite is mineral that combines the elements potassium, sulphur, magnesium and calcium.
"We are now looking forward to adding progress on our mineral transport system to the impressive progress we have already made on early works and mine shafts," Fraser added.
Top image: Work under way on the Woodsmith mine (all images courtesy of Sirius Minerals)