We all need to move around – indeed, this is a basic human need and right. However, there is a downside in that doing so is hugely damaging to the environment. Transport accounts for some 21 per cent of global carbon emissions, with aviation alone accounting for nearly a billion tonnes of excess CO2 every year.

The good news is that some of our behaviours in this area are changing. More electric vehicles (EVs) are being purchased and used on the roads every year and huge efforts are being made to innovate and find further new solutions, with a significant amount of this work being done in Scotland. The challenges are significant. The Scottish Government wants the country to reach net zero by 2045 and the same will apply to transport, so there is a lot of work still to do. Jacqueline Redmond is the Executive Director of the Power Networks Demonstration Centre (PNDC) at the University of Strathclyde and also Chair of CENSIS, the Scottish Innovation Centre for sensing, imaging and Internet of Things technologies.

“The Scottish Government is aspirational and enthusiastic about making this happen”, she says. “The challenge is about technology and behavioural change – for example, putting in the UK’s first electrified trunk road on the A9. “Historically, the take up of electric vehicles (EVs) has really happened in major conurbations because it’s been driven by air quality issues. That means there’s a greater density of charging infrastructure in these places.”

In terms of changing behaviour, she says, people who are driving around our cities in EVs need to be persuaded to switch to public transport. This will allow the renewable energy used for charging them to be prioritised for the use of those in urban areas who do not have the same mass transit options. As time passes, she adds, the challenges still surrounding the use of EVs will be resolved: there will be a greater number of charging points and the speed at which they operate will improve. “All of these things will just get better.”

Dr Redmond’s colleague Matthew Maynard, who is Director of Strategic Projects at Strathclyde, and Interim Head of DER (Scotland), believes that Scotland has a lot to offer when it comes to the development of transport and energy infrastructure. “It’s an area where we have a huge history and capability. The Scottish marine industry has a big role to play in decarbonisation and the same is true of aviation.

“A lot of our public service obligation routes have to be there for connectivity and these are ideal for decarbonising with the technology we have today. It’s not just about achieving net zero. There is also an opportunity for us to bring economic prosperity here by becoming first to market with these technologies.”

Work on this is already underway: current projects include a groundbreaking low carbon aviation test centre at Kirkwall Airport in Orkney. This is examining the full supply chain, including the skills that will need to be developed as well as the technology. Work is also ongoing to develop vehicles using green hydrogen. This is converted into electricity via a fuel cell so some 70% of the powertrain is similar to EVs. The difference is that these vehicles are filled with a pump nozzle, as currently happens with conventional petrol or diesel. This means range, which can constrain EVs, becomes less of an issue with green hydrogen technology, making it suitable for heavy vehicles such as buses, haulage trucks and construction equipment.

“Scotland is actually one of the largest producers of green hydrogen, which is quite difficult to manufacture in large volumes”, Matthew Maynard says. If you look at areas such as hydrogen, electrification and manufacturing, we have probably got most of the skills needed globally to take a leadership role.”

Dr Redmond continues: “There are some incredibly exciting companies innovating in this sector in Scotland. For instance, there is Emergency One, which is based in Cumnock in Ayrshire and has produced the world’s first electric fire engine. There is also HV Systems which is in Glasgow and is producing a hydrogen fuel cell ambulance. In addition, companies such as Alexander Dennis are already manufacturing electric and hydrogen buses.

“Then we are involved in a project at the Michelin Scotland Innovation Parc in Dundee, working with St Andrews University and Transport Scotland. This involves setting up a test facility to examine new vehicle concepts, neighbouring the Arcola Energy facility.” When it comes to the decarbonisation of transport, Dr Redmond believes that it is a good fit for Scotland, as the country is small enough to be connected but big enough to make a difference.

“We have a government that is responsive and adaptive and we have academics that are far more industrially focused than in other parts of Europe. There’s also a history of innovation here. We get them working together and it just seems to work. Everyone seems to understand what the others need – there is a synergy there.”

Matthew Maynard flags up another project in the transport sector in which he has been involved, working with the Scottish Government, Scottish Enterprise and others to look at how jobs lost in aerospace because of Covid-19 could be transitioned into the green economy.

“A lot of effort has been put in. When it comes to understanding the opportunities for Scotland in aerospace and specifically in its decarbonisation, the Scottish Government has really rolled up its sleeves. It is now looking to inject not just capital, but also enthusiasm and pace into positioning Scotland to take advantage of this. We have the human capital, the capability and the natural resources, plus a public service obligation operator in Loganair.

“It is easy to pull these different elements together. You can follow an aspirational target for net zero carbon while at the same time winning enormous economic benefits. The two go hand in hand.”

This article was brought to you in association with CENSIS