The ground-breaking facility will produce eco-friendly hydrogen from water through a process powered by renewable energy.
The facility will also store and distribute the gas to the local region, including whisky distilleries, as well as exporting to the rest of Scotland, other parts of the UK and even Europe.
The report has identified a number of sites around the firth that are deemed suitable to host the 35MW green electrolyser plant, which will be the largest of its kind in the UK.
One of the key factors in the area’s favour is the large regional concentration of renewable energy resources nearby, with a substantial capacity from existing onshore and offshore wind farms plus future offshore development planned.
These would be able to supply the volume of clean electricity needed to run the plant.
Another plus is significant existing infrastructure already in place around the Cromarty Firth, with an experienced local supply chain and strong links to industry, transport and heat networks.
The analysis endorses green hydrogen as a sustainable, safe, long-term energy solution that is vital for operations that cannot decarbonise through renewable electricity alone.
It proposes a phased development for the facility, beginning with installation of the electrolyser by 2024 to meet local and distillery demands and to demonstrate effectiveness of the technology at commercial scale.
A second phase would involve expansion of green hydrogen to meet growing energy demands nationally and internationally.
Following the feasibility study success, the project will now move into its next stage of development – including detailed engineering, community engagement and commercial discussions – ahead of a final investment decision by 2023.
The North of Scotland Hydrogen Programme is a multi-partner project involving the Port of Cromarty Firth, ScottishPower, Pale Blue Dot Energy, drinks giants Glenmorangie, Whyte & Mackay and Diageo and other businesses.
Bob Buskie, chief executive of the Port of Cromarty Firth, said: “This is fantastic news for both the Cromarty Firth and for the country’s ambitions to become a leading hydrogen nation, with targets for Scotland to generate 5GW of renewable and low-carbon hydrogen by 2030 – enough to power the equivalent of 1.8 million homes.
“Phase one of the electrolyser could be up and running and the first hydrogen produced by 2024, in what will be one of the biggest electrolysers in the UK.
“Such a facility will be a game-changer, not only for industries across the Highlands and Scotland, but also for the UK and internationally as we will be able to export green hydrogen to energy markets around the globe.”
The Highland hydrogen hub will be an “industry-leading” project, according to Barry Carruthers, hydrogen director at ScottishPower.
He said: “We’re in a climate emergency and so we have to focus on zero-emission technologies - green hydrogen offers the long-term, sustainable, zero emission solution for industries, sectors and businesses that cannot be supported by renewable electricity alone.
“With only months to go until COP26, one of the most important climate summits, we’re showing what can be achieved when industry collaborates in order to tackle climate change.”