Could hydrogen become a viable alternative to fossil fuel use in agriculture? A recent workshop helped to answer the question.

It was organised by the James Hutton Institute, which is conducting research on its hydrogen project at Glensaugh Farm, Fettercairn.

The session, which I attended, brought together different stakeholders in the energy sector and the wider community to understand how how farm-scale hydrogen could be more widely produced.

The Glensaugh Farm project – dubbed Hydroglen – aims to harness renewable energy generated by wind turbines and solar panels to create hydrogen.

A major issue is how hydrogen generation can be made commercially attractive to users of fossil fuels to help the transition to green energy.

While there are many challenges to overcome for hydrogen to become mainstream, I was encouraged by the ambition of the HydroGlen project to develop a hydrogen model that will enable others to learn from their development process and use collective experiences.

The viability of mainstream hydrogen production is likely to be determined by economies of scale.

Mass development of the supply chain and technology is necessary to allow farms and estates to convert the generated electricity into hydrogen for onward use, to power vehicles and equipment or for transmission into a pipe network.

Such economies of scale will only be achieved with a combination of Government support and policy and a willingness to take a chance in the early stages to adopt the technology, to promote the sustainability and energy security we need.

However, at farm scale, if the technology was available and affordable, it could provide a solution which enables farms and businesses to insulate against fluctuating global energy prices – a key metric for maintaining sustainable cropping and food production.

At the moment the competition between electric and hydrogen power seems to be a bit like that between Beta-Max and VHS in the days of video tape. Only with hindsight we will be able to tell which technology will win through.

Currently the mainstream is on EVs and electrification of the grid. But chemical batteries have their own challenges to overcome and rely on energy from the grid, which highlights the additional options for hydrogen which can support the energy storage sector as it also offers flexible solutions.