Industry Leaders Gather for “Hytech” NI Workshop

Industry representatives from across Northern Ireland gathered at Ballymena’s Ecos Hub recently for the inaugural HyTech NI Industry Steering Board meeting and workshop – an initiative aimed at supporting the development of Northern Ireland’s burgeoning hydrogen economy.

HyTech NI is a joint project between Queen’s University Belfast, Mid & East Antrim Borough Council (MEABC) and Ulster University and industry underpinned by £15million funding from the NI Complementary Funding to support investment in the hydrogen economy.  The project will extend capabilities of two planned Belfast Region City Deal projects, the Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (AMIC) and i4C Innovation Centre, to support industry to take advantage of opportunities in the cleantech sector.

An Industry Steering Board has been formed to advise on the strategic direction of the project during the outline business case process to ensure investment decisions in equipment and capabilities are aligned with industry need and market opportunity and to provide guidance on the appropriateness of proposed R&D and technology choices.  Chaired by Buta Atwal, former CEO of Wrightbus, the Hytech NI Industry Board is made up of representatives from B9 Energy, Catagen, Energia, Firmus Energy, Kingspan, NI Makers Alliance, Phoenix Natural Gas, Spirit AeroSystems, Translink, Wrightbus as well as reps from Council and the Universities.

Paul Maropoulos, AMIC Director, explained: “HyTech NI will have a twin focus on the development of a hydrogen technology accelerator for Northern Ireland and the trialling of a series of testbeds in Ballymena across a number of core themes including gas network blending, transport and mobility, and skills and training.  “The project has been designed to align closely with policy direction for a range of priority areas, including climate change, economic development, skills, and R&D and innovation. Crucially, HyTech NI responds to clear policy requirement to meet the UK’s net zero targets and supports the Northern Ireland Energy Strategy’s vision to decarbonise and to create new jobs and grow a green skills base.”

According to HyTech NI Chair Buta Atwal, the project is anticipated to realise a wide range of benefits for the Northern Ireland economy: “The potential impact of HyTech NI on the local economy is enormous,” he said. “In addition to direct GVA impact associated with operational jobs created and sustained by the project, we anticipate productivity gains and extensive social value benefits resulting from investment in upskilling and training.

“We are confident that further development of a local hydrogen economy could alsolead to increased opportunities for inward investment, as well as increasing NI-based manufacturers’ competitiveness in the emerging global hydrogen economy. Added to this are an array of tangible benefits associated with knowledge transfer through collaboration between academia and industry.”

Ursula O’Loughlin, Vice Chair of HyTech NI and Head of Economic Development at Mid & East Antrim Borough Council, explained that HyTech NI forms part of Council’s wider cleantech strategy.  “HyTech NI is the latest in a series of initiatives led or supported by Council which are driving the development of Northern Ireland’s cleantech/greentech sector – adding to the recent success of our Manufacturing Task Force (MTF) and our Hydrogen Training Academy, launched in 2022 to develop skills and training for the hydrogen economy,”

“Alongside our support for HyTech NI, we will continue to build our investment in the Hydrogen Training Academy which will support the future development of our flagship i4C Innovation and Cleantech Centre anticipated to open in Ballymena in 2027. The i4C Centre, represents a £24m investment, part funded under the Belfast Region City Deal and will provide a platform for enhanced SME supports for open innovation and commercialisation activity across all business sectors but with particular focus on the cleantech sector”.

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