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Northern Ireland clean tech pioneer wins Innovate UK funding to power energy transition, creating up to 100 new skilled jobs

Published on 12 September 2023

Belfast-based Ionic Technologies has been announced as the largest recipient from the first phase of a £15 million UK government fund.

The grant will be use to scale up production of the rare earths needed to manufacture renewable energy technologies and drive decarbonisation globally, creating up to 100 new skilled jobs in the process.

Marking the official opening of Ionic Technologies’ demonstration plant, Lord Dominic Johnson, Minister for Investment at the Department for Business and Trade attend as his first engagement during his week-long stay in Northern Ireland for the NI investment summit, which he is hosting.

Lord Dominic Johnson congratulated Ionic Technologies’ two successful entries for the funding competition as part of Innovate UK’s ambitious CLIMATES programme, while officially opening the company’s Belfast demonstration plant.

The £15 million government funding allocation is earmarked for cutting-edge research dedicated to strengthening domestic supply chains of critical materials to drive the UK’s net-zero transition and green transport revolution.

The company said the investment will propel Ionic Technologies on its journey to becoming one of the UK’s foremost innovators in magnet recycling and domestic producers of 100% recycled rare earth oxides.

Acquired in 2022 by Australian multinational Ionic Rare Earths Limited, the company, a Queen’s University Belfast spinout, has bold ambitions to scale up production through development of a commercial scale plant, which puts Belfast firmly on the map as an emerging UK clean energy hub.

Developing a resilient and reliable supply chain of rare earths is increasingly becoming an issue of national strategic importance as the mining, refining, and recycling of these elements are currently industries dominated by China. Funding from Innovate UK will enable Ionic Technologies to deliver two critical projects to tackle this challenge.

Lord Johnson, said: “Critical minerals are vitally important to our economy, and the funding awarded for these cutting-edge projects today will help us strengthen the industry’s supply chain even further.

“There are huge opportunities for UK firms in the booming rare earth elements market, and I congratulate the winners on their success in helping to drive this growth; a brilliant way to kick off the Northern Ireland Investment Summit this week.”

Through partnership with Ford UK and Less Common Metals, Ionic Technologies will work to develop a traceable circular model supply chain for rare earth magnets, vital to power the future roll-out of electric vehicles right across the UK. A feasibility study delivered with the British Geological Society will determine the scale of a future commercial plant which can lead the charge in creating secure and sovereign UK rare earth supply chains.

General manager of Ionic Technologies Thomas Kelly, explained: “We are delighted that Lord Johnson could open our demonstration plant today as this marks a significant milestone for Ionic Technologies. Innovate UK’s funding and support will be invaluable in growing our production capability and creating up to 100 new jobs in Belfast. We are excited to work with similarly purpose-driven and innovative partners to deliver these projects.

“At our Belfast base we are demonstrating that our patented process can establish sustainable, sovereign, and secure rare earth supply chains by recycling end-of-life magnets, creating an opportunity for the UK to export these strategic raw materials globally. We are proud that an indigenous tech business has the capability to deliver certainty for the UK over future supply of rare earths.

"With Northern Ireland in the spotlight during this week’s investment summit, led by Lord Johnson, we are ready to showcase and promote our innovative technology and global potential.”

Mike Biddle, executive director for Net Zero at Innovate UK congratulated Ionic Technologies and its two project partners, continued: “By recycling and recovering valuable rare-earth elements, companies like Ionic Technologies are reducing the environmental impact of extraction, saving energy, and creating a resilient supply chain in a growing global market.

"I congratulate Ionic Technologies for securing funding for two CLIMATES projects. They have demonstrated their commitment to this challenge, and I wish them and their partners well on their innovation projects.”

Commenting on the news that Ionic Technologies has secured funding to help it scale-up and create up to 100 new jobs, Suzanne Wylie, chief executive of NI Chamber, added: “As a spinout from Queen’s University, Ionic Technologies has already experienced rapid growth with the support of local skills and talent.

“News that this funding will support its research and development and help scale-up production is extremely welcome, as is the indication that it will help create new clean tech jobs in Northern Ireland.”

Source: News Letter