Leading Scotch whisky maker Whyte and Mackay has said the establishment of a Green Freeport in the Scottish Highlands would help it achieve its target of becoming carbon neutral by 2030.
The firm, which is the largest distiller in the north of Scotland, is expected to be one of the first users of green hydrogen produced from a planned electrolyser on the Cromarty Firth.
And it believes its decarbonisation drive would be boosted by a scaling up of the clean gas production plant that would be enabled by Green Freeport status.
Whyte and Mackay owns five distilleries across Scotland, including Invergordon and The Dalmore on the Cromarty Firth, on the east coast of the Highlands.
The company funded a feasibility study for the electrolyser, along with fellow distillers Glenmorangie and Diageo, as well as ScottishPower, Storegga and the Port of Cromarty Firth (PoCF).
ScottishPower and Storegga have since announced plans to jointly develop one of the UK’s largest green hydrogen plants in the area. The project’s first phase, expected to be operational in 2025, will be capable of producing up to 20 tonnes of green hydrogen a day, for use in distillery heating processes, as well as regional transportation.
The developers have said Green Freeport status for Inverness and the Cromarty Firth would have the potential to bring forward investment of more than £1billion in a larger-scale plant by up to 10 years and would place the Highlands “firmly at the centre of larger scale production” of the zero-emission fuel.
Whyte and Mackay’s Invergordon distillery is the largest in the north of Scotland and the company is one of the biggest employers in the Cromarty Firth area, with a workforce of around 130.
The firm voiced its support for the north Green Freeport in a letter included with the Opportunity Cromarty Firth (OCF) consortium’s bid, submitted to UK and Scottish ministers in June.
In it, Whyte and Mackay’s distilling director, Shane Healy, wrote: “We have set a target to be carbon neutral by 2030 and we have a number of key projects to allow us to achieve this. Central to this is green gas, with a balanced approach between bio gas and green hydrogen.
“We plan to begin taking green hydrogen from the electrolyser when operational; initially requiring two tonnes of green hydrogen per day. This is expected to rise to six tonnes per day by around 2030. This will require an infrastructure capex spend of circa £4-6million by 2030.
“We are also heavily investing in a green biomethane anaerobic digestor plant that would have green hydrogen blended into its supply to allow us to generate enough green, carbon free gas to meet our ambition before 2030.”
Mr Healy continued: “The Cromarty Firth area is of central importance to our business and where we also hold the vast majority of our maturing whisky inventory.
“The freeport tax incentive can help accelerate the scale-up of the electrolyser and also reduce the cost of green hydrogen. This is important to allow us to achieve our ambitious decarbonisation goals and also to allow us to be competitive, as we encounter the cost disadvantages by operating in a semi-rural location, almost 200 miles from our bottling and distribution plant in Grangemouth.
“The Opportunity Cromarty Firth submission is centred in the areas where we have our largest distilling and maturation footprint and we are fully supportive of the consortium and the benefit it can bring to our area and the community within.”
Commenting on behalf of OCF, Port of Cromarty Firth chief executive, Bob Buskie, said: “We would like to sincerely thank Whyte and Mackay for their strong expression of support for our bid.
“They, along with Glenmorangie, Diageo, ScottishPower and Storegga have been instrumental in driving the development of a green hydrogen industry in the Highlands and fully support the scaling up of that industry that can be accelerated by the award of Green Freeport status.
“As well as helping decarbonise industries, it is a sector that will play an important role in the drive towards regional and national energy security, creating high-quality green careers and supply chain opportunities.
“With Green Freeport status for Inverness and the Cromarty Firth, there is a real opportunity for the UK to secure its position as a global leader and leading exporter of this clean fuel alternative.”
The OCF consortium, launched in 2020, includes the ports of Cromarty Firth, Nigg and Inverness and also the Highlands’ largest air terminal and Inverness Airport Business Park. It is backed by Inverness Chamber of Commerce and more than a dozen businesses, as well as public sector organisations, and academic bodies, including The Highland Council and the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI).