Could hydrogen be key to Scotland’s net zero future?

2nd October 2020 | Commercial Energy

Humankind’s first attempt at air travel was not – as many believe – the creation of aeroplanes that hurtle across continents and nations. In 1783, passengers huddled in airships that floated across the Atlantic between Europe and America – carried gently for thousands of miles. This was made possible by the lightest and most abundant element on the planet: hydrogen.

When hydrogen-filled silk balloons were attached to rigid frames and called Zeppelins, it was heralded as a miracle of air travel. But initial enthusiasm for these miraculous flying machines soon turned to dread. Hydrogen is also highly flammable. When the towering Hindenburg airship exploded in mid-air, blown to pieces by a lethal build-up of static electricity, hydrogen airships were quickly abandoned.


Despite its ultimately catastrophic effect on air travel, this was only the first attempt at harnessing the potential of hydrogen. These early airborne experiments proved that hydrogen was bursting with potential. Scientists realised that the element’s combustible properties were as useful as they were dangerous. Following its use of the atomic bomb on japan, killing hundreds of thousands of people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, the US went one step further. Post-war, its military scientists ran tests on the much more powerful and deadly hydrogen – or H – bomb, and its lethal potential terrified the world.
Now, however, hydrogen has become a weapon not only of terror but of hope – a key tool in Scotland’s battle to help prevent climate chaos.

Hydrogen is a relative newcomer to the renewable energy sector, but its potential to play a vital role in Scotland’s green economy is now leading the conversations in government and industry. Its proponents say that hydrogen is key to decarbonising the Scottish economy. Lindsay McQuade, chief executive of ScottishPower Renewables, says hydrogen fuel will help power heavy-duty vehicles, because electrification “can only go so far”.

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