In northeast Scotland, distillery companies look set to benefit from a proposed hydrogen power plant. A consortium of distillers – Glenmorangie, Whyte & Mackay and Diageo – recently teamed up with industry and planning authorities to commission a report.As a fuel, hydrogen should become economically attractive as production costs drop, thanks to technological advances and economies of scale. Although there are still some logistical considerations to address – such as storage – the potential rewards are significant.
Not only is the gas a clean, environmentally-friendly alternative to fossil fuels and nuclear power, but it is also highly efficient. In addition, the proximity of the envisaged plant to distilleries around Moray Firth and Speyside means that transport costs should be relatively low. Thus, distillery operators have a financial incentive to minimise their carbon footprint.
Site and logistics
After investigation, experts concluded that the Cromarty Firth area of Highland is an ideal site. Around twenty miles north of Inverness and adjacent to the Moray Firth, the port is the largest and deepest in Highland.
Crucially, the sheltered waters and deepwater docks will keep the logistics simple. The production process is straightforward, using electrolysis to separate hydrogen from oxygen, the two elements present in water molecules. Also, the peninsula and straits have enough renewable energy capacity to power the envisaged 35-megawatt electrolyser.
The inlet and ample quayside are near Invergordon, Ross and Cromarty, Highland. Apart from occasional cruise traffic, the area is a focus for offshore engineering projects. Its local workforce is skilled and experienced in subsea inspection, repair and maintenance work.
Other participants in the scheme include The Port of Cromarty Firth, Scottish Power and Pale Blue Dot, part of the Storrega Group specialising in geotechnology. The latter is also developing plans for a Scottish carbon capture and storage cluster, in addition to hydrogen production.
North of Scotland Hydrogen Programme Distilleries Project partner, ScottishPower, has published further details. The Spanish-owned utility company and electricity distributor quotes possible outputs of 14 tonnes per day if construction goes ahead. Scalability would enable expansion to become one of the largest such facilities in Europe, capable of meeting domestic and international demand.
Speaking on behalf of the port authority, chief executive Bob Buskie described such a facility as a game-changer. Similarly, Scottish Power director Barry Carruthers commented that the project would harness the region’s abundant green energy sources. He looked forward to working with corporate partners, the Scottish Government, Highland Council and local stakeholders to support decarbonisation.
The detailed engineering phase will involve community engagement and commercial development work. Investment backers expect to make a final decision in 2023.
Advantages of hydrogen
Hydrogen is non-toxic and renewable. One kilogramme delivers as much energy as 2.8 kilogrammes of natural gas. Although it requires careful handling and safe storage, it could fill the gaps associated with solar and wind power sources. According to the UK Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association (HFCA), widening its usage would support low-carbon growth and help the UK reach its Net Zero target.