On hearing that the government aims to phase out diesel as the main power source for trains by 2040, David Lowe, chairman of the UK’s Commercial Boat Operators Association commented recently that we need to be doing the same for barges (Ed: and water taxis) – even though they are already the cleanest mainstream form of transport per tonne/mile.
Scotland’s first hydrogen-powered taxi was launched in Aberdeen last year, funded by the Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency. The city pioneered hydrogen buses and car club vehicles. Nine hydrogen cars and four vans are also operated in Aberdeen by the city council, NHS, Scottish Environment Protection Agency and social enterprise organisation Scarf.
The Point and Sandwick Charitable Trust, which uses income from renewable energy to invest in the social, cultural, educational and environmental well-being of the communities of Point, Sandwick and the Western isles, is to work with Caledonian MacBrayne Ferries (routes and vessels) to “green” its ferry fleet.
It has secured Scottish government funding for a feasibility study, working with partners, including Siemens Gamesa, Engie, ITM Power and the owner, Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL). CMAL, a public corporation of the Scottish Government, with Scottish Ministers as sole shareholders, owns the ferries, ports, harbours and infrastructure for the ferry services serving the west coast of Scotland.
Calum MacDonald, the trust’s development director, like Antoon van Coillie of Blue Line Logistics, said that batteries aren’t practical, the journeys are too long and the batteries would be too heavy. While hydrogen has been used for small vessels – see the Birmingham Protium Project – Mr MacDonald says it has not yet been used successfully for larger vessels.
To make it “a cost-effective reality” would include scaling up the capacity of electrolysers to make the quantities of hydrogen required for the ships, developing systems to handle, transport and store the hydrogen on piers and adapting ships to run on hydrogen.
Clean hydrogen, produced when an electrolyser is used to split water into its component parts and hydrogen, using electricity generated by a large community wind farm on the Isle of Lewis, could replace oil as the fuel for the large ferry fleet serving the Outer Hebrides within five years.
Clark MacFarlane, managing director of Siemens, said “a smart, local energy system” could have far-reaching effects. “The knowledge gained from this low-carbon infrastructure project can equally be applied to decarbonising road transport,” he said.