HYDROGEN has been endorsed as a key piece of Scotland’s energy mix but environmental campaigners have raised concerns over how “realistic” the government’s plans are.

Last week, the Scottish Government published a 52-page Hydrogen Action Plan as part of a bid to make Scotland a “world leader” in production of the chemical, including establishing an export market, regional production hubs across the country and creating thousands of green jobs.

Net Zero Secretary Michael Matheson claimed hydrogen is “Scotland’s greatest industrial opportunity since oil and gas was discovered in the North Sea”.

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However, Friends of the Earth (FoE) Scotland have queried the claim that a hydrogen economy could support more than 300,000 Scottish jobs, the viability of an export market, and said it is unlikely to help reduce emissions. Greenpeace have also raised concerns over the use of blue hydrogen, where fossil fuels have been converted into hydrogen, as an “unnecessary inefficiency”.

It comes after the Scottish Government was told it must take urgent action to reduce emissions and “scale up” plans for drastic cuts to greenhouse gasses or risk missing targets.

The Government’s action plan describes how hydrogen “could be an important tool to help lower our greenhouse gas emissions and to minimise our impacts on the climate”.

Both blue hydrogen, branded as low-carbon by the government, and green hydrogen, which comes from renewables, will be utilised as part of the plan. The extensive document sets out 60 current and planned hydrogen projects and pinpointed 13 areas with the potential to become regional hydrogen hubs, including Aberdeen, Cromarty, Dumfries and Galloway, and island communities Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles.

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The Scottish Government intends to ramp up hydrogen production in an attempt to be a leading producer and exporter to Europe by the mid-2020s.

Alex Lee, FoE Scotland climate campaigner, said they had concerns about the scale of the infrastructure required to be put in place in the timeline set out by the action plan.

They said: “I am very doubtful that that could happen in the time frame that’s been suggested.

“The amount of renewables that we would have to build and then put onto the grid is massive. The infrastructure that we would have to develop around that is huge. If we factor in blue hydrogen into that, that’s also reliant on CCS [Carbon Capture Storage]. The only project that’s currently trying to do CCS is the Acorn project which still doesn’t have funding.”

Lee also raised concerns about the viability of CCS, which is supposed to catch 90% of carbon emissions but tends to instead catch around 60%, and the lack of any funded projects in Scotland.

While FoE Scotland said it welcomes green jobs to support the Just Transition to renewables, it is not convinced by the figures.

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Lee explained: “My general feeling is that there needs to be a heavy dose of realism injected into these sort of plans, because some of the statistics are saying some of the job figures, for example, are saying that there could be upwards of I think about 300,000 jobs.”

The current oil and gas industry in Scotland supports around 71,500 jobs, while the NHS in Scotland employs over 155,000.

“I think that would be one in 20 people in Scotland would be working in hydrogen. For me, that doesn’t sound realistic,” Lee added.

They pointed out that numerous European countries, including Germany and the Netherlands, have created their own hydrogen plans, and that the export market may not be as big as the government expects.

Lee added: “If Scotland has outlined that they don’t see a role for hydrogen in areas like domestic heating, if they acknowledged that you can’t use green hydrogen efficiently in things like buses or transport, surely other European countries have recognised that as well.”

The climate campaigner argued that Scotland already has the solutions to reduce emissions, by focusing on renewables, electrification and the decarbonisation and insulation of homes and buildings.

Both FoEScotland and Greenpeace said some areas of heavy industry, such as steel production, may be the only option to decarbonise.

Dr Doug Parr, chief scientist for Greenpeace UK, told the Sunday National: “Given that we don’t have anywhere near enough green hydrogen for the vitally important uses, frittering it away on the bad ideas is itself a very, very bad idea.

“Which is why it is wholeheartedly supported by the fossil fuel industry, who are hoping to keep hydrogen demand much, much higher than green hydrogen supply so that they can make up the difference, maintaining the demand for gas and keeping their assets valuable, but also keeping us on track for planetary catastrophe.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We are clear that hydrogen and CCUS have important roles to play in securing a just transition to net zero for our energy sector.

“Hydrogen presents us with our greatest industrial opportunity since oil and gas was discovered in the North Sea. Our abundant natural resources make us perfectly placed to produce green hydrogen for use in the decarbonisation of our own economy and for export.

“We have already made significant steps in establishing routes to market with key European neighbours, who are clear in their readiness to import hydrogen energy. Low-carbon hydrogen production meanwhile has an important role in reducing emissions from industry.

“Carbon capture, utilisation and storage will be essential for capturing residual emissions in our energy system and reducing emissions in hard to decarbonise industrial sectors that cannot electrify their processes.

“CCUS must be deployed at pace to ensure decarbonisation at pace and cannot be used to justify unsustainable levels of fossil fuel extraction or impede Scotland’s just transition to net zero.”