Former MP leads feasibility study into hydrogen-power sea ferries to the Western Isles

Calum MacDonald at Stornoway harbour with the CalMac ferry Loch Seaforth behind him
Calum MacDonald at Stornoway harbour with the CalMac ferry Loch Seaforth behind him

A team including Britain’s biggest community energy wind farm and a German wind-turbine manufacturer has been awarded funding by the Scot-Govt. to carry out a feasibility study into developing a hydrogen-powered ferry service to some of Scotland’s remotest island communities.

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

Point and Sandwick Trust, the community energy company behind the award-winning Beinn Ghrideag community wind farm, is leading the project, which also includes Caledonian MacBrayne ferries, Ferguson Marine shipyard in Glasgow, ITM Power, which specialises in hydrogen manufacture through electrolysis.

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 2018, to look at the technical and commercial requirements for a west coast hydrogen ferry. 

The feasibility project 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 (also known as brown or green water routes), it has yet to be used successfully for larger vessels on ‘blue water’ or sea-going routes.

Point and Sandwick Trust has operated the UK’s largest community wind farm at Beinn Ghrideag on the Isle of Lewis since 2015.  The £14 million project produces £800,000 a year in net income for the local community and is expected to generate a net £2 million a year once the capital costs have been repaid.

Whereas the Beinn Ghrideag wind farm is connected to the national grid and sells its power to the mainland, the proposed new community turbines would not need a grid connection because they would be exclusively devoted to making hydrogen for use on the Caledonian MacBrayne ferries which serve the Inner and Outer Hebrides.

Calum MacDonald, Development Director for Point and Sandwick Trust and a former MP for the Western Isles, 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 Scot-Govt. 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.

“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.”

23 Feb 2018

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