The owner of Ballymena bus maker Wrightbus is eyeing setting up hydrogen production in Northern Ireland, it can be revealed.
Jo Bamford, chairman of Wrightbus and founder of hydrogen firm Ryse, took over the reins of the bus firm in 2019 when it entered administration.
The company is now producing around 20 new zero-emission hydrogen buses for Translink in Northern Ireland. It's also supplying 80 new electric vehicles.
"We are looking at putting hydrogen production in Northern Ireland. I would be delighted to connect to a wind farm or solar park," he said.
"I have a real contention, which is Northern Ireland is actually uniquely positioned, and you can't afford to be either, or.
"Northern Ireland should say 'we aren't going to do batteries and we are going to focus on hydrogen'.
"It can export into Europe, there are great universities and I think it should really focus on it - there's a lot of wind and a lot of water, all of the constituent parts.
"Ultimately, you need the supply chain to cost less to be able to make hydrogen at £1.50 a kilo… there needs to be a production in Northern Ireland, at scale, in the next 12 months, built. I have been pushing to get money to build one in Northern Ireland and bring jobs to Northern Ireland."
And Mark Stockdale, partner with law firm A&L Goodbody, and energy expert - who was also speaking to Ulster Business as part of a roundtable discussion on hydrogen power - said: "I think there is and it's time for businesses to take hydrogen more seriously.
"As far as opportunities you have hydrogen production, and also in hydrogen technology, particularly fuel for heavy vehicles, manufacturing and other large energy users."
It comes amid Translink's plans for a new hydrogen refuelling station. It will supply hydrogen for its new fleet of zero-emission buses.
Translink has ordered 100 new buses from Ballymena's Wrightbus as part of a £66m contract.
That will include 80 electric vehicles and 20 hydrogen buses. Translink is now actively seeking a contractor to deliver its hydrogen fuel station.
And Anne Donaghy, chief executive of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, said it is now well on its way on pushing ahead with a new Hydrogen Training Academy for the region.
"I'm hugely excited about it," she said. "If you want to have a successful business, you have to have people who are competent. We have become very skilled in being able to reskill people.
The idea has come from looking at the future. We know there is going to be huge growth in the sector, so let's build an academy. I want a world-renowned academy on hydrogen and I think we have all the key players to do so.
"For me, hydrogen is one of the biggest tools we have in a post-Covid economy. There are huge opportunities in terms of job creation and investment. For the Northern Ireland economy it is critical that we are a world-leader in this. I agree with Jo that it is a time in which we have to push forward and grab the opportunity we now have.
"We have written to the Prime Minister to set out the case for Ballymena to be the hydrogen town that he has this vision for. It's about being a key part of the economy and getting that investment. In 12 weeks I will have the training academy launched and at this stage we have a list of companies wanting to get in — looking at how they can get involved or how they can make the change themselves.”
And Ann McGregor, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: “Hydrogen has got to be part of the solution, and it is gaining momentum.”