Scottish Highlands can Deliver “Key Building Block” to Decarbonise UK’s air Transport System

The UK’s largest regional airline has said the Scottish Highlands can provide a “key building block” in the drive to decarbonise the country’s air transport system.

Loganair believes proposed large-scale green hydrogen production in the region would play a crucial role in establishing the range of national infrastructure needed for airlines to switch to clean, zero carbon fuels.

The Scottish company has voiced support for a bid to win Green Freeport status by Inverness and the Cromarty Firth, which is regarded as critical in attracting £1billion investment to accelerate development of green hydrogen technology in the area.

And the firm, which operates to more UK airports than all other airlines combined, said it envisaged being a “significant customer” for the fuel produced in the Highlands.

Headquartered in Glasgow, Loganair has operational bases across Scotland and the UK and, in partnership with hydrogen technology specialist ZeroAvia, has been heavily involved in development of new, clean propulsion technology for aviation. 

The company’s decarbonisation strategy envisages a fleet which is majority green hydrogen fuelled and, due to the nature of the aircraft it uses on a number of routes, it expects to be among the first airlines in the world to operate a zero emissions commercial flight.

The Cromarty Firth has been identified as being central to future large-scale production of green hydrogen because of its proximity to existing and planned offshore wind farms, which are needed for the new industry’s development.

Energy giant ScottishPower and Storegga have announced plans to jointly develop the UK’s largest green hydrogen plant on the Cromarty Firth, on the east coast of the Highlands.  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, to be used in heating processes in nearby distilleries, as well as regional transportation.

The developers have said Green Freeport status for the area would have the potential to bring forward more than £1bn in a larger-scale plant by up to 10 years and would place the region “firmly at the centre of larger scale production” of the fuel.

Loganair expressed its support for the plans in a letter submitted to Scottish and UK ministers along with the Opportunity Cromarty Firth (OCF) consortium’s bid for Green Freeport status.

In it, the company’s head of sustainability strategy, Andy Smith, said: “We fully support the Inverness and Cromarty Firth Green Freeport bid, as we envisage being a significant customer for the hydrogen produced from the electrolyser planned for the Green Freeport.”

He continued: “The creation of a Green Freeport in the Cromarty Firth would produce significant benefits not only to the local economy, but also as a key building block in the vast range of national infrastructure required to produce and handle the significant quantities of green hydrogen required for a future decarbonised transport system.

“The firth offers a unique combination of natural deep-water harbour, a broad skills base, high levels of accessible local demand and proximity to the vast, largely untapped renewable power potential of the North Sea.

“We believe that the tax-free status offered by a Green Freeport will leverage these advantages to stimulate and dramatically speed up the development of the green hydrogen infrastructure across the country which we see as critical to a decarbonised future.”

Mr Smith said Loganair expects Inverness Airport, which is a part of the OCF consortium, to become one of the first UK air terminals with “significant hydrogen uptake.”

Commenting on behalf of OCF, Port of Cromarty Firth chief executive, Bob Buskie, said: “As well as being the UK’s largest regional airline, Loganair is a vital part of the fabric of Highlands and Islands life and we warmly welcome their strong support for our bid for Green Freeport status. They, like us, are in no doubt over the key role the rapid development of large-scale green hydrogen technology will play in decarbonising their industry and other sectors.

“The Cromarty Firth is going to be at the heart of that clean energy revolution and the advantages of Green Freeport status would enable the full potential of that position to be realised. 

“As well as playing an important role in the drive towards regional and national energy security and creating high-quality green careers and supply chain opportunities, it can help secure the UK’s 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).

Andrew Rae, Professor of Engineering at the University of the Highlands and Islands,  said: “Hydrogen is one of the key fuels to enable zero-emission aviation, especially for larger, longer-range aircraft. 

“UHI is already working with partners at the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC), in Orkney, and Highlands and Islands Airports to investigate the implications of hydrogen, amongst other alternative fuels on aircraft operations and airport infrastructure. 

“The ambition of Opportunity Cromarty Firth to produce, store and distribute green hydrogen at scale to our region is thus significant in supporting these activities and in meeting Scottish Government’s target of establishing the Highlands and Islands as Scotland’s first net-zero aviation region by 2040.”

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