HYDROGEN fuel produced in the Cromarty Firth area could help local whisky distillers to reduce their carbon emissions under plans that have generated interest among industry giants.

A feasibility study backed by Glenmorangie, Whyte & Mackay and Diageo found that the Cromarty Firth area would be the ideal place in which to develop a facility for the production of so-called green hydrogen.

This involves using electrolysis to separate hydrogen from oxygen, which is the other element of water.

The study findings highlight the advantages offered by an area in which it should be relatively easy to access supplies of renewable energy to power an electrolyser and in which there is a deep water port.

It identified a range of sites in the area that would be suitable places in which to develop a hydrogen production plant that could supply the fuel to local distilleries at competitive prices.

The plant could be expanded to become one of the biggest facilities of its kind in Europe, with the capacity to capitalise on expected strong demand for hydrogen across the UK and in overseas markets.

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The findings boosted hopes that the Cromarty Firth area could play an important part in the development of the green hydrogen industry in Scotland.

Bob Buskie, chief executive of the Port of Cromarty Firth, said: “Such a facility will be a game changer not only for industries across the Highlands and Scotland, but also for the UK and internationally as we will be able to export green hydrogen to energy markets around the globe.”

Mr Buskie said phase one of the electrolyser could be up and running, and the first hydrogen produced, by 2024 in what would be one of the biggest electrolysers in the UK.

Port of Cromarty Firth also provided backing for the study, as did ScottishPower and Storrega Geotechnologies, which is developing plans for a Scottish carbon capture and storage and hydrogen production cluster.

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Following completion of the study, the North of Scotland Hydrogen Programme Distilleries Project is moving into the detailed engineering phase.

This will also involve community engagement and commercial development work.

The backers expect to be in a position to make a final decision in 2023 on whether to proceed with an investment in a plant.