Drive for hydrogen ferry in the Islands

Calum MacDonald in Stornoway, with CalMac's Loch Seaforth behind him.
Calum MacDonald in Stornoway, with CalMac's Loch Seaforth behind him.

A team is looking into the potential of developing a hydrogen-powered ferry service for the Western Isles.

The group comprising the UK’s biggest community energy wind farm, six leading private-sector companies and a public-sector maritime asset company has been awarded funding by the Scottish Government to carry out a feasibility study into developing a hydrogen-powered ferry.

The hydrogen for the ferry would be made using local community-owned wind power and, if the project is successful, it would be the world’s first sea-going hydrogen ferry.

The funding has been awarded by the Scottish Government through its Low Carbon Infrastructure Transition Programme, supported by the European Regional Development Fund, and will be used for an initial feasibility study, to be completed by June.

It will look at the manufacture of the hydrogen using local wind power, the challenges of how to handle, transport and store the hydrogen on local piers, and how the design of the ship and its engines needs to be adapted to run on hydrogen fuel.

Although hydrogen has been used for small vessels on rivers or coastal routes it has yet to be used successfully for larger vessels, although it is known that a number of other countries are also looking to develop such vessels.

Point and Sandwick Trust, the company behind the Beinn Ghrideag community wind farm, is leading the project.

Development Director for Point and Sandwick Trust, Calum MacDonald said: “We have a simple yet bold vision which is to harness the huge potential of community-owned wind power on the Scottish islands to power the lifeline ferry services by utilising the very latest in hydrogen energy technology.

“Turning that vision into reality will be a world-first and requires the very best expertise in both energy and shipping technology.

“That is why I am delighted that the Scottish Government has agreed to fund the initial feasibility study to map out the technical, commercial and regulatory challenges to overcome.

“We hope to produce this first report by the summer and if it indicates that vision is feasible and practical, we can then move onto the development phase with a view to having a ferry operational in the early 2020s.”

He added: “Orkney already has a fantastic project using hydrogen to help power a local ferry. This new Hebrides project is aimed at going up in scale, both in ship size and in the difficulty of the crossing and I am sure that the two projects can learn from each other.”

The other main partners in the project are:

* CMAL, who own the Caledonian MacBrayne ferries which serve Scotland’s west coast

* Ferguson Marine shipyard in Glasgow

* Siemens-Gamesa Renewable Energy, the leading supplier of wind turbines to the UK

* ITM Power, one of the world’s leading specialists in hydrogen manufacture through electrolysis

* ENGIE, who are specialists in the transport and storage of gas

* Wood, a global leader in the delivery of projects, engineering and technical services to energy and industrial markets

* Johnston Carmichael, Scotland’s largest independent firm of chartered accountants and business advisers, and specialists in renewable finance.