Scotland's dream of developing major green hydrogen industry appears to be evaporating – Dr Richard Dixon

Major hydrogen projects across Europe appear to be running into trouble

Scotland hopes to be a major exporter of hydrogen, but problems with major projects in Europe show that ambitious plans for the use of hydrogen may never be delivered. There are a number of potential sources of hydrogen. The oil industry likes to think they will be making hydrogen from natural gas, but the Scottish Government’s favourite option is to use some of that lovely renewable electricity we are generating to split water and thereby create what is known as “green hydrogen”. Because green hydrogen is very pure it would be a good substitute fuel for steel and cement making, and chemical production.

At the end of 2022, the Scottish Government published a hydrogen action plan in which it said that “our ambition is for Scotland to be a leading producer and exporter of hydrogen and hydrogen derivatives for use in the UK and in Europe, with the first hydrogen delivered from Scotland to mainland Europe in the mid-2020s”.

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In October last year, the Scottish Government gave £200,000 to the Net Zero Technology Centre in Aberdeen, to expand on their existing work, looking at the potential for a hydrogen pipeline to feed German industry. In January, a speech by the First Minister on industrial policy featured the production and export of green hydrogen as one of the key features of Scotland’s future.

Hydrogen's future as a major green fuel is not as rosy as some believe, says Richard Dixon (Picture: Etienne Balmer/AFP via Getty Images)Hydrogen's future as a major green fuel is not as rosy as some believe, says Richard Dixon (Picture: Etienne Balmer/AFP via Getty Images)
Hydrogen's future as a major green fuel is not as rosy as some believe, says Richard Dixon (Picture: Etienne Balmer/AFP via Getty Images)

Cancellations and delays

The European Union has a hydrogen strategy which aims to have nearly 15 per cent of Europe’s energy coming from hydrogen by 2050. But this strategy has not been progressing well and individual national strategies, including that in Germany, have also been struggling. Cancellations and delays to major projects illustrate the lack of certainty about whether hydrogen will actually play much of a role in Europe’s future energy mix.

Last week, German energy firm Uniper admitted that its flagship green hydrogen project at the port of Rotterdam had been put on hold, with the start date moving two years later at the very earliest. Although the project was selected for an EU innovation grant, it could not qualify because it could not find anyone to guarantee to buy the power it would generate.

Production forecast slashed

Just a day later, it emerged that a major project to ship liquid hydrogen from Portugal to the Netherlands had been scrapped. The project’s developers included Shell and it was also in line for an EU innovation grant. The developers blamed uncertainty over future regulations and the embryonic state of the hydrogen market in Europe.

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A plan to turn hydrogen into methanol at the port of Antwerp was abandoned in February when it could not find any long-term customers. Corruption allegations around another hydrogen project in Portugal forced the country’s Prime Minister to resign last year. Things are going so badly that the trade association for hydrogen production in Europe slashed their forecast for hydrogen production in 2030 by 80 per cent.

Closer to home, energy giant SSE had to drop plans to use electricity from the Gordonbush windfarm in Sutherland to make hydrogen when it failed to get UK Government support. Green hydrogen will have a future role in our energy system, but not for some time and probably not at anything like the scale the Scottish Government was hoping for.

Dr Richard Dixon is an environmental campaigner and consultant



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