£511K for 'revolutionary' hydrogen academy in Ballymena announced

Dessie Blackadder

Reporter:

Dessie Blackadder

MORE than half-a-million pounds is to be invested in “revolutionary” green project in Ballymena.

And the move towards a new Hydrogen Training Academy, to be based at Silverwood Business in Ballymena has been welcomed by Mid and East Antrim Mayor, William McCaughey.

The project is to receive £511,000 from the UK Government’s Community Renewal Fund.

With hydrogen emerging as a leading sustainable energy solution, the first-of-its-kind project for Northern Ireland will enable and develop a dynamic, skilled workforce that can take full advantage of hydrogen and clean tech opportunities.

The Hydrogen Training Academy is one of 31 projects across Northern Ireland set to benefit from a total of £12million CRF funding – all focusing on skills, education, local business and employment.

Led by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, 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, EPUK, AES, B9 Energy, Alexander Dennis, CPH2 and Kilroot Energy Park – as well as private training providers Horizon and Transport Training Services Ltd.

Council has already started the development of the academy earlier this year utilising private sector sponsorship and DfC Covid Revitalisation Funding with the formal procurement of a new state-of-the-art training pod to support the practical training through the Hydrogen Training Academy. The training pod is being built by BSH Limited and will be delivered early in 2022 in time for the first trainees to use.

The Mayor commented: “As all eyes around the world turn to COP26 and the urgent focus on environmental sustainability continues to gather pace, news of this funding really is very timely and very welcome in indeed.

“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 zero carbon targets. Through this revolutionary Hydrogen Training Academy, our Borough will continue to build upon its reputation as 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 plans come to fruition in the coming months and witnessing the longer-term economic impact the Academy will undoubtedly have in the coming years.”

Graham Whitehurst MBE, Chair of Mid and East Antrim’s Manufacturing Task Force, explained how the Academy will play a “critical role” in training and upskilling both existing employees and new trainees to a recognised professional competence standard required for the hydrogen sector.

“The Hydrogen Training Academy will deliver a range of crucial entry-level introductory training for industry across a number of sectors, including energy, transport, gas, manufacturing and engineering,” he said.

“This training will be delivered via a combination of online, classroom and practical training focused across four key areas of hydrogen – hydrogen basics and safety, production of hydrogen, high pressure hydrogen and hydrogen in vehicles.”

According to Mr Whitehurst, an initial pilot phase at the Academy will see 30 participants take part in a ‘Train the Trainer’ course, delivered by academics from the University of Birmingham, who have already successfully delivered their ‘KnowHy Training’ to over 1,000 participants.

Among the participants will be representatives from the Further Education sector in Northern Ireland, who will then draw upon their training to develop and accredit two Level 3 courses for delivery to young people and employees across the hydrogen industry. Higher Education partners involved will also collaborate to develop a Level 7 postgraduate certificate in Hydrogen Power, with Ulster University also offering an additional 60 places on two of its Hydrogen CPD courses.

Mr Whitehurst continued: “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 clean growth sector and industry.”

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