Mid & East Antrim a pioneer in hydrogen and cleantech skills, says sector stalwart

Mid and East Antrim (MEA) is a pioneer in cleantech and hydrogen and is creating the right conditions and developing the right skills for indigenous and inward investor companies across all sectors to flourish, according to Buta Atwal, the outgoing chief executive of Wrightbus, one of Northern Ireland’s most innovative companies.

Mt Atwal said the borough has developed a skillset and knowledge, which sets it streets ahead of other regions in both disciplines and is acting as an enabler in developing the skills needed to fuel the hydrogen economy in MEA. Speaking at the Fuelling Future H2 Skills event in Ballymena recently, he said the collaborative effort from a range of stakeholders in delivering projects – such as the Pilot Hydrogen Training Academy and H2 Gas Safe Lab – leave it primed to extend that learning and will ensure it maintains its sector-leading expertise.

The Hydrogen Training Academy; Fuelling Future H2 Skills event took place on 21st September, Zero Emissions Day, with over 75 key stakeholders from throughout the Northern Ireland green energy sector meeting to hear how the pioneering training academy is developing the hydrogen economy in the borough.

He said the joint green energy approach with Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has undoubtedly played a big part in the success of the development of the Wrightbus hydrogen-powered fleet, which is in high demand from public transport providers around the world.

Buta Atwal said: “Wrightbus operates across the globe offering cutting edge hydrogen bus technology which is without equal.   Mid and East Antrim Borough Council’s focus on green growth and investment in hydrogen skills training has helped us achieve a world-class status, a position which will be cemented by upskilling our team at the Hydrogen Training Academy.”

“Make no mistake, the expertise in hydrogen and cleantech within this borough is world leading and, when combined with support from others in the industry, from government and from the education sector, offers a powerful environment to start, grow and invest in a business.”

Wrightbus is just one example of the companies, which have and will benefit from the collaboration within MEA on hydrogen and cleantech. As well as those in the transport and fuel cell sectors, the Pilot Hydrogen Training Academy also sees companies in the heating, plumbing and gas industry work closely together to develop the skills needed to support new net zero carbon initiatives.

Phoenix Gas also works closely as part of the MEA hydrogen and cleantech community and the company’s Director of Business Development Jonathan Martindale participated in a Green Energy panel session at the MEA-organised event.

He said the Hydrogen Training Academy will play a crucial role in upskilling Phoenix Gas’ engineers to allow the company to supply hydrogen through the gas pipe network. He said Northern Ireland’s relatively new plastic piped gas network allows hydrogen to be added to the gas supply, thereby lowering the carbon footprint of one of the main fuel sources to both residents and businesses.

Jonathan Martindale explained: “We’re on the cusp of exploring trial projects where we inject hydrogen into the gas network, a move which has the potential to significantly reduce carbon emissions and speed the journey toward Northern Ireland’s goal of net zero carbon by 2050. The work we do in the next few years will determine whether we, as a region, realise that goal, one which is made possible with the ability to upskill our 3,500 gas professionals through the Hydrogen Training Academy.”

“Repurposing our teams’ skills through the academy will be critical in driving that vision, while also opening up the opportunities in the hydrogen and indigenous energy sector in the years to come.”

In addition to Phoenix and Wrightbus, the Mid and East Antrim Green Energy panel session also featured Chris Corken from Belfast Met; Sam McCloskey from TetraTech and Edward Kerr, the Department for Economy’s Hydrogen Lead with Graham Whitehurst from the MEA Manufacturing Task Force providing the closing address highlighting the importance of cleantech to the manufacturing industry.

The Pilot Hydrogen Training Academy is a first-of-its kind project, led by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council in a collaboration that includes Northern Regional College, Belfast Metropolitan College, Queen’s University Belfast, Ulster University and the University of Birmingham.

A consortium of key industry partners also involved includes Wrightbus, Energia, Translink, Firmus, and EP UK Investments.

The flagship project supports the development of a full-cycle hydrogen economy aligning with the government’s Net Zero ambitions. It delivers essential hydrogen training opportunities for industry across a number of key areas, utilising bespoke practical training labs to deliver.  The project will ultimately help to cement Northern Ireland as a leader in the green energy sector by future proofing jobs through development of new skills.


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