Minister for the Economy, Gordon Lyons MLA, has welcomed the launch of a “revolutionary project” in Ballymena, which he said will support the development of a skilled workforce that can take full advantage of hydrogen and cleantech opportunities.
A public-private investment of £700,000 from the UK Government’s Community Renewal Fund, the Department for Communities Covid-Revitalisation Fund and EP UK Investments will see the new Hydrogen Training Academy, based in Ballymena, being led by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.
The Minister said: “The Hydrogen Training Academy is a first-of-its-kind project which will enable Northern Ireland to fully maximise opportunities associated with hydrogen as the emerging leading sustainable energy solution.
“By supporting our wider ambitions for a greener future through the delivery of a range of crucial entry-level introductory training for industry across several sectors, including energy, transport, gas, manufacturing and engineering, it is an incredibly exciting time to be able to be involved in an initiative such as this.
“The Hydrogen Training Academy aligns with a number of current policy initiatives, including the Department’s 10X Economic Strategy, the UK’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution and Clean Growth Strategy, as well as our recently-launched Path to Net Zero energy strategy, which sets out a vision of net zero affordable energy. These investments in clean energy will help grow the green economy and reduce Northern Ireland’s dependence on imported fossil fuels.”
The Academy will be driven by a public-private partnership that includes Northern Regional College, Belfast Metropolitan College, Queen’s University Belfast, Ulster University and the University of Birmingham.
A consortium of key industry players also involved includes Wrightbus, Energia, Translink, Firmus, and EP UK Investments.
Speaking at the launch, Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Councillor William McCaughey said: “The announcement of this revolutionary Hydrogen Training Academy is welcome and timely, particularly as we heighten our focus on creating and sustaining long term economic recovery and growth in the aftermath of a global pandemic.
“Mid and East Antrim is uniquely placed in Northern Ireland in terms of the key strengths and assets we boast in energy and cleantech that align with the ambition of net zero carbon targets. The Academy will support the development of the Ballymena area as a ‘hydrogen hub’ and continue to build upon our Borough’s reputation as a centre of excellence and the main focal point of the emerging Northern Ireland wide hydrogen economy.
“I commend Council’s Elected Members and officers who, in collaboration with our public and private sector partners, have invested a huge amount of time and effort in bringing the project to this stage. I very much look forward to seeing the Academy grow and to witnessing the longer-term economic impact it will undoubtedly have in the coming years.
“Today’s announcement along with future plans for investment in the i4C Innovation and Cleantech Centre at St. Patrick’s Barracks and the recent announcement of £15 million joint funding with QUB under the Northern Ireland Executive’s City and Growth Deals Complementary Fund for a Ballymena Integrated Green Hydrogen Hub further supports and cements our ambition.”
Ian Luney, Commercial Director at EP UK Investments, said: “EPUKI is delighted to support Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, alongside other partners across the public and private sectors, in the development of the Hydrogen Training Academy in Ballymena. As the owners of Kilroot and Ballylumford Power Stations, we recognise the value of supporting innovation and training, particularly in emerging cleantech industries such as the hydrogen sector.
“The production and use of hydrogen is part of our long-term vision for the Kilroot Energy Park. Upskilling existing and new employees through the academy will be crucial in enabling Northern Ireland to benefit from opportunities in a thriving hydrogen economy over the coming years and EPUKI look forward to contributing to that.”
The launch of the Academy comes as Mid and East Antrim Borough Council welcomes the arrival of a new state-of-the-art training pod for the first cohort of trainees to use.
Based at Silverwood Business Park, the H2 Gas Safe Lab is the first of two facilities for the Ballymena area and is targeted at the NI Gas Safe Register plumbing and heating industry to provide a competence testing space for work with commercial level equipment.
The state-of-the-art facility is the first mixed-gas hydrogen-testing lab in the UK for Gas Safe engineers, with multiple systems to help reduce carbon footprints in houses and offices.
Northern Regional College will house the second training facility focusing on the production of hydrogen through specialist training equipment. This facility will provide a technology familiarisation teaching space for all levels in the basics of green hydrogen.
Graham Whitehurst MBE, Chair of Mid and East Antrim’s Manufacturing Task Force, explained how the Hydrogen Training Academy will play a “critical role” in training and upskilling existing employees as well as new trainees to a recognised professional competence standard required for the hydrogen sector.
“Through the Hydrogen Training Academy and a range of other initiatives, led by our Manufacturing Task Force, Mid and East Antrim is cementing its position as a hub for SME innovation and commercialisation activity and a springboard for the future of the cleantech growth sector and industry.”