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Wind and water could turn Western Isles ferries green

Experts are looking to sustainably produced hydrogen to power sea transport. Katherine Imlay reports.

The Scottish Government is aiming for a 37% fall in transport sector emissions by 2032. 

The shipping industry has one of the highest energy consumptions and in order to achieve sustainable transportation, we need to drive towards alternative transport fuels with zero emissions. 

One solution is to ‘green’ the marine transport sector and leading the way with this innovation is hydrogen. Hydrogen can be a zero carbon fuel when it is made using renewable energy to power the process of electrolysis. 

Surplus renewable electricity from wind turbines can be used to drive an electrolyser, which splits fresh water into oxygen and hydrogen. The hydrogen can then be stored in a fuel cell to power ferries with 100% renewable energy. 

The recent publication of the Scottish Western Isles Ferry transport Using Hydrogen (SWIFtH2) feasibility study is the first step towards decarbonising the shipping sector. 

The study assessed the suitability of using hydrogen produced with power from local wind farms to operate ferries on the west coast of Scotland, with a particular focus on nine ferry routes from west coast islands to the mainland. 

Wood Group, a multinational energy services company, collaborated with industry experts and modelled the size of the wind farm against multiple variables required to produce enough hydrogen for each ship operating the ferry route. 

The leading example is the Stornoway to Ullapool route, which would need 3,676 tonnes of hydrogen and could be powered using 15 turbines on the Isle of Lewis. The saving in carbon emissions would be equivalent to taking more than 4,700 cars off the road. 

Green hydrogen has a promising future to add value to local economies through local resources. Scotland has the best wind resource in Europe yet grid export is constrained on many of the west coast islands. 

Galbraith is currently working on the Western Isles to facilitate wind turbine development where network operators are seeking to reinforce existing assets. Nevertheless, there is potential for greater generation beyond current capacity. Production of hydrogen sourced from local wind turbines would not rely on increased grid capacity and might be a solution to the Western Isles becoming a trailblazer in achieving a 100% renewable transport solution.