WHAT STARTED as a cursory interest in reducing the carbon footprint of his farm has led to David Barron, of Nether Aden in Aberdeenshire, retrofitting of two tractors and a farm jeep with hydrogen electrolysers – and making a big saving on fuel costs and carbon.

Mr Barron worked with SAC Consulting to identify ways to reduce the carbon output of the 203-hectare 130-cow suckler beef and arable unit, and his first electrolyser, marketed as HydroGen, cost £6000 and was fitted as part of ScotGov's Farming for a Better Climate project. A subsequent project funded by the Rural Innovation Support Service has brought together six Aberdeenshire farmers to explore further applications of the technology, including how to use surplus energy from farm wind turbines.

“The two biggest bills on my farm are fuel and fertiliser, both can be tackled by hydrogen,” said Mr Barron, who is chairman of the Scottish Beef Association. “I’m totally sold on the technology, the unit has worked so well, and now that the price has come down to £1000 each, so I’ve paid to have two more installed – one on another tractor and one in my jeep.”

In addition to the 20% fuel saving for all three vehicles, he has also seen other benefits. “There’s certainly more torque when you drive the tractors in a higher gear, which is very like driving a superior horsepower vehicle, and added to this, there are no emissions – there’s just nothing coming out of the lum.”

In monetary terms, the savings for Mr Barron’s telehandler – the first machine to be converted – equate to 1083 litres of fuel, equivalent to 43,440kg CO2 and £596 annually, worth £2980 over a five-year period.

The hydrogen converter box is the size of a small suitcase, which contains a reservoir of water and an electrolyser which splits the water into hydrogen and oxygen by passing an electrical current through the tank. The resulting oxyhydrogen is injected into the conventional diesel engine at a rate of approximately 6%.

“The technology won an award at the Highland Show last year, chosen by local MP, David Duguid,” Mr Barron added, suggesting that he’d like the next stage to be doing away with diesel completely. The manufacturers claim the other benefits as a ‘better burn’ of fuel which leads to a cleaner engine, meaning that diesel particulate filters need to be replaced less frequently.

Commenting on the wider findings from the Farming for a Better Climate project on Nether Aden, local coordinator, Alan Bruce from SAC Consulting said: "David’s passion is his livestock, so as part of the project, we looked at some other ways to improve the farm’s carbon footprint, including making better use of inputs like muck and fertiliser, for example.

“Taking account of the nutrient content of the muck combined with soil nutrient test results delivered extra yield from grass, which allowed David to increase cow numbers by 30 from the same inputs and land area.

“The combination of the hydrogen converter and the efficiency gains for the livestock enterprise demonstrate what can be achieved to positive address climate change with relatively small changes to farm practice,” Mr Bruce concluded.