During his visit, Mr Lyons met with Wrightbus CEO Buta Atwal and MD Neil Collins, who explained how the business has been turned around in the past two years and how it is now leading the way in zero emission technology.
The Minister said: “Not only is Wrightbus one of Northern Ireland’s best known global brands, it is strategically important for our economy. It provides several hundred highly skilled jobs in the hydrogen and advanced manufacturing sectors.
“As such its continued success aligns with both our energy strategy, The Path to Net Zero, and with our 10X Vision for the Northern Ireland economy.
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“Its advanced engineering and manufacturing capability is renowned across the globe, especially in terms of Hydrogen Fuel Cell buses. I welcome the firm’s work to decarbonise bus travel as it will lead to a growth in our hydrogen economy which will bring associated economic, employment and research benefits.”
Wrightbus CEO Mr Atwal said: “We were delighted to welcome Mr Lyons to the factory and to discuss with him first hand our vision and plans for Wrightbus to support not only the decarbonisation of public transport across the UK and Ireland on our journey towards net zero emissions, but also the wider Northern Ireland hydrogen economy.
“Northern Ireland’s recently published ‘The Path to Net Zero Energy’ recognised the part that hydrogen can play in reducing the impact of climate change. We believe hydrogen - both through its production and the manufacturing of vehicles, l ike buses, that use it - represents a substantial economic growth and job creation opportunity for Northern Ireland.
“This is why we welcome the Executive’s new energy strategy and we agree wholeheartedly with the hydrogen ambitions of Mr Lyons and other ministers to ‘attract investment into the local economy and position our companies to take advantage of the energy and economic opportunities available on a global scale’.
“Working at scale, Wrightbus has a clear plan in place to reduce the costs of the buses to be comparable to diesel for the total cost of ownership, and help build a domestic supply chain.
“Wrightbus believes that hydrogen fuel cell buses, manufactured in Ballymena, can and should be used and powered across the world.IMG_0093.jpg
“However, as we see growing demand for our hydrogen buses, we must ensure this is coupled with growing levels of production of hydrogen gas. This is why we are also committing to investing in green hydrogen production facilities, which in turn will create more local jobs.”
When Wrightbus was taken over by Jo Bamford in October 2019, only 56 staff remained in the business. Just over two years on, and largely thanks to its new zero emission products, Wrightbus is now on track to employ more than 900 staff over the next few months once its latest recruitment drive is complete.
Since the launch of the Streetdeck Hydroliner, Wrightbus has prevented over 1,575 tonnes of harmful carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions entering the atmosphere for the journeys made compared to the diesel powered version of the bus - the equivalent of taking more than 345 cars off the roads for a whole year.
Wrightbus MD, Neil Collins said: “The CO2 savings we have been able to achieve with our vehicles demonstrate why we need to see commitment from the Northern Ireland and UK Governments to investment in buses, trains, trucks, ships, aircraft and the entire green hydrogen supply chain. We are grateful to Mr Lyons for coming to see our operation first hand and speak to us about our ambitions.”
* Just last week Wrightbus announced the recruitment of up to 30 new apprentices
The ground-breaking company plans to recruit apprentices in various roles - including electrical, spray painting, welding, coachbuilding, driveline and engineering.