By Scott Wright

PLANS for a green hydrogen hub in the Highlands are revealed today, with developers hailing the move as a major boost to ambitions to decarbonise the Scottish economy.

And one of its first projects will be to examine the possibility of powering distilleries across the region with the emerging renewable power.

The North of Scotland Hydrogen Programme, unveiled today, aims to create a hub in the Port of Cromarty Firth to produce, store and distribute green hydrogen. It aspires to provide energy not just for the region but to the rest of Scotland, elsewhere in the UK and Europe.

Green hydrogen is created through the electrolysis of water using equipment powered by electricity generated from renewable resources.

The partners behind the privately-funded project, which include the Port of Cromarty, major distillers, ScottishPower and Pale Blue Dot Energy, are looking to fund the development of a “gigawatt-scale” electrolyser at the port.

With power from wind farms located close to the Cromarty Firth, as well as onshore schemes, this would be on a bigger scale than electrolysers currently installed in the UK.

The Port of Cromarty Firth has played a significant role in supporting the offshore wind farm sector in Scotland in recent decades. Its proximity to where large amounts of renewable energy are generated, alongside the depth of the port’s deep waters, established facilities and location at the end of the gas grid, are reckoned to make it a favourable location for a green hydrogen hub.

Bob Buskie, chief executive of the Port of Cromarty Firth, said a green hydrogen hub in the area would give a “massive boost to Scotland’s ambitions of decarbonising its economy and establishing itself as global leaders in green hydrogen technology, a sector still in its infancy.”

Mr Buskie added: “In the short-term, we have a number of local partners with vast experience in hydrogen, distilling and utility provision who want to decarbonise their operations.

“And in the long-term, there is a huge opportunity to decarbonise Highland industry, transport and heat, as well as exporting green hydrogen to other parts of the UK and mainland Europe, which doesn’t have the same offshore wind capacity as Scotland.”

The first step in the project will assess the feasibility of producing green hydrogen at the port for distillers across the Highlands. It is hoped the delivery of green hydrogen will give Glenmorangie, Whyte and Mackay and Diageo the opportunity to decarbonise the heating of their distilleries and maltings, which are based close to the Cromarty Firth. The partners in the project note that this would be achieved using hydrogen as a substitute for fossil fuels to create the energy needed to make steam for the distilling process.

Peter Nelson, operations director at The Glenmorangie Company, said: “We enthusiastically support the development of the Green Hydrogen Hub on the Cromarty Firth. This would be an important stepping-stone to provide a green energy resource for the whole of the North Highlands.

“The region has huge potential to generate renewable energy and the hub will ensure the region potentially becomes a centre for this emerging technology, providing an essential ingredient of the energy mix for a sustainable future.”

Details of the project emerged shortly after the Scottish Government published its hydrogen policy statement in December, which outlined the role hydrogen can play in meeting Scotland’s net zero target for carbon emissions by 2045.

The Cromarty Firth project may be seen as a major boost in realising that ambition.

However, according to the reports of four Holyrood committees, published yesterday in response to the Scottish Government’s draft Climate Change Plan, urgent action is needed across all sectors to meet the country’s net zero targets.

Barry Carruthers, hydrogen director at ScottishPower, said: “The North of Scotland Hydrogen Programme is a flagship project, showcasing how partnerships across energy and industry can deliver long-term, sustainable solutions for areas where electrification can’t reach.

“The Highlands of Scotland have been at the heart of the renewable energy revolution over the past two decades and now they look set to be at the centre of the green hydrogen revolution. We look forward to working with our partners on this project and begin our wider work to deliver green hydrogen across the UK.”