The Launch of HIAlba-IDEA think tank; the first Highland based think tank.

Key Initial Papers of the think tank for download in PDF format:

HIAlba-IDEA -Overview 16

This paper contains a summary of the agenda of the new think thank and the proposed papers that will stem from its creation

Hydrogen Scotland – Preliminary Report (2)

This is an initial preliminary paper outlining the possibilities for Scotland stemming from recent work on creating renewable hydrogen and related renewable issues


The following paragraphs represent a summary and extended press release for the new think tank, including the authors’ proposal for a Greenprint and their Bios. It is hoped that a new website for the think tank – – will be up and running soon and all future postings and information on the development of the think tank will be contained on this web site.


HIAlba-IDEA – Isle of Skye based think tank

founded by Prof Ronald MacDonald and Dr Donald MacRae

The relatively poor productivity and growth performances of the Scottish economy are widely accepted and there are a number of well-known potential explanations, ranging from a low aggregate R&D spend to the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis.

Innovative solutions to the productivity ‘crisis’ are thin on the ground and most extant proposals cover familiar ground in terms of their scope. The new think tank ‘HIAlba-IDEA’ has as its key agenda the formulation and propagation of new and innovative ways of addressing the growth/productivity nexus in a Scottish context. This is summarised in our motivational strapline: Maximising Scotland’s well-being by bravely innovating. The think tank is apolitical and does not take a position on constitutional issues.

Based in the Isle of Skye, HIAlba-IDEA – Highlands & Islands Alba (Scotland) IDEA (Think Tank) – is the first Highland think tank.  It has as its core starting point the application of a new Australian technology pioneered by the Australian national science and industrial research agency (CSIRO) to reduce markedly the cost of extracting hydrogen from ammonia produced using renewable energy and the wider implications this advance could have for the Scottish economy if implemented appropriately.

Although a huge commitment to renewables has already been made in Scotland one of the key issues in being truly self-sufficient in such energy is the dependence on what is an uncertain source of power and the inability to store the power when wind speeds are favourable. The renewable hydrogen revolution offers the ability to do this and in so doing it would potentially address, for example, the costly constraint payments that have to be made to wind farm owners. However, embracing the renewable hydrogen revolution would produce vastly greater gains.

Specifically, Scotland could maximise the benefits of decarbonising its economy by generating wind energy offshore that not only matches the UK-based flow of oil & gas from the North Sea but exceeds it to the extent that Scotland in partnership with a consortium of global energy majors becomes one of the largest global energy exporters in the world.  We envisage that it would do so through the low-cost extraction of hydrogen from renewably generated ammonia used as a storage medium and carrier of hydrogen.  Offshore ammonia production on disused oil rigs servicing offshore wind farms could be stored in large underwater tanks for periods of low wind.  In this way the continuous production of renewable electricity could be guaranteed, either by wind to electricity or ammonia to hydrogen to fuel cell electricity.  The prospect for doing so with advanced materials technologies hold the promise of near zero loss of electricity transmission making the prospect of serving a Europe-wide Supergrid increasingly attractive, perhaps scaling to delivering an energy-independent Europe reaping the economic benefits of rapidly reducing energy costs, and the health and environmental benefits of ever improving air quality (of critical importance to Europe[1]) and water quality.

We reason that as hydrogen becomes increasingly central to national economies, remote, rural and regional areas of Scotland, such as the Highlands, are best placed to generate and export electricity and ammonia on a massive scale and we outline wide ranging opportunities for remote, rural and regional Scotland to increase massively the manufactures of food products and advanced technology products and IT-based services to the scale of global corporate enterprises.  We also describe how Scotland can massively increase its exports of medicine and healthcare services and education and training services.

We envisage that such decentralisation will also advantage Scottish cities in major ways by:

  1. boosting levels of supporting manufacturing of technologically advanced products and services that could be leveraged into major export outcomes
  2. leading to renewable energy steelmaking and graphite-to-graphene products
  3. building autonomous “self-fuelled” ships for
  4. vast increases in ammonia transportation
  5. cleaning up plastic infestations of the oceans and seas running on biofuels produced onboard from the plastics collected
  • roll on roll off shipping to transport exports of autonomous refuse collection vehicles (RCVs) running on biofuels produced in real-time from the plastics and bio-wastes collected
  1. harvesting on a Japanese scale seaweed from farms enabled by vast wind farm structures
  2. ironically making it possible for Glasgow and Edinburgh to evolve as a conurbation with productivity levels matching that of Greater London but so doing without incurring the income disparities prevailing in England.

However, the remit of the think tank is much wider than a sole focus on renewable hydrogen, as its founding Overview report demonstrates.  In particular, it contains new thinking on a large range of issues from the implementation of the digital economy.  We refer to this as digitalisation and detail how this will accelerate advancement of the foregoing mutually reinforcing processes of decarbonisation and decentralisation.

Beyond this we consider that the application of advances in artificial intelligence and secure networking technologies will accelerate the uptake of Scottish science and technology by existing and startup enterprises and their beneficial interaction with startups worldwide, among other things, drawing on resources and expertise of the Scottish diaspora and the California based Singularity University’s startup initiative and their “exponential technology” Summits.  We make a detailed case for “Why Scotland?” should and could take a leading role in ensuring the benevolence of the rapidly development and deployment of artificial intelligence.

Benchmarking Productivity:  We make a case for benchmarking productivity improvements for three of the four EU regions for Scotland (namely North-East, South-West and the Highlands & Islands) to the much higher levels that prevail in Norway and a several hundred percentage improvement in the Glasgow-Edinburgh conurbation, spanning the fourth region, to match or exceed the level of Greater London.

Centrality of Social Capital:  We perceive the need for innovation in building social capital given its role as the preeminent driving force in achieving and mobilising the quality of human capital to maximise well-being.  We consider social capital resources such as trust, cultural norms, and networks of association.  Existing comparisons of the impact on inequality of varying levels of social capital endowment in 15 EU countries, including the UK, provide a basis for breaking this down to the four EU regions for Scotland.  We assess the role of social capital in ensuring ethical and beneficial development and deployment of artificial intelligence (AI) is matched with detailed considerations of how AI can advance the processes of nations building social capital.

Policy Relevance:  Recent technological advances now proffer many opportunities for Scotland to maximise the benefits from its impressive strengths in renewable energy by further decentralising governance to engage comprehensively with local communities-of-interest, in harnessing two game changing opportunities: (1) the production of renewable hydrogen for massive scale exports; and (2) distributed ledger technologies for central governments to lead by allocating responsibilities to decentralised entities in achieving these benefits maximally,  confidently and securely.  We note that Norway and Switzerland, two of the most successful tech-savvy economies in Europe, are not only socially progressive but also operate highly decentralised systems of governance while eschewing the overarching strictures entailed by membership of the EU.

Why Skye:  Although much of the input into explaining Scotland’s economic performance has focused on the central belt, and indeed all existing Scottish think tanks are central belt based, this new think tank takes a more holistic approach by focusing on the contributions of the different regional areas discussed in the Overview report.  Indeed, since one of the key proposals of the new think tank is tapping into both the existing renewable sector and its future development, the think tank will be based in the Highlands (in Portree) and there is a strong Highland emphasis in our proposed workstreams.  The Highland economy, a largely rural economy, already makes an important contribution to the Scottish economy in GVA and employing 1 in 5 of the workforce.  But it could do a great deal more and it is often seen, for a variety of reasons, as underperforming with respect to national averages and indeed has been labelled the sleeping giant of the Scottish economy. The founders of the new think tank also have strong links to the Highland area, with one being based there. However, as the think tank’s Overview report makes clear the remit of the new think tank is by no means limited to the Highlands as the proposals contained therein have a much wider impact for the Scottish economy.

In launching their new think tank, MacDonald and MacRae propose an ambitious Greenprint to create the reality of a renewable energy Supergrid for Europe and a summary of that is given below.

Greenprint for European Supergrid

Step 1: Noting that ammonia is an effective, well-established way of transporting hydrogen, accelerate the application of a new Australian technology to reduce markedly the cost of extracting hydrogen from ammonia.

Step 2: Accelerate the existing use of renewable energy to produce ammonia that is much cheaper than existing hydrocarbon-based polluting processes.

Step 3: Accelerate the development of processes to produce ammonia directly from energy, air and water: Solid-State-Ammonia-Synthesis and a customised fuel-cell process.  Oxygen bi-product would be a major opportunity in its own right.

Step 4: Accelerate existing initiatives to lower markedly the cost of producing blades and turbines to accelerate, in turn, the existing uptake of offshore windfarms – Scotland features with Norway in the world’s first offshore wind farm.

Step 5: Partner with Norway and Australia in assessing the feasibility of transporting ammonia as a carrier of hydrogen for existing uses in all forms of electric-based transportation (including cars, buses, trucks, trains, ships and planes) and electricity generation for food production, human habitation and industrialisation.

Step 6: Accelerate existing research efforts to use graphene as a super-conductor for near zero-energy losses in the transmission of electricity.

Step 7: Accelerate Australian company’s R&D and early stage commercialisation of a process for low-cost, carbon-neutral extraction of graphite and hydrogen from natural gas – a possible acceptable way of utilising Scotland’s onshore natural gas reserves.  Evaluate ways to use by-product hydrogen for electricity to achieve carbon-negative production of graphite for electric vehicle battery production and to use in local, national and international electricity grids.

Step 8: Accelerate the development of technologies to produce graphene from graphite and its effective use as a super-conductor, especially in the transmission of electricity.

Step 9: Evaluate the feasibility of using old oil & gas rigs as platforms located (throughout a vast array of windfarms located in the continental-shelf Atlantic and North Sea) to produce ammonia and store in large undersea tanks for conversion to electricity in periods of low wind, thereby delivering a continuous, non-intermittent supply of electricity.

Step 10: Produce a blueprint to integrate the foregoing into a comprehensive technology roadmap to establish offshore wind farms in the Atlantic and North Sea that will provide levels of continuous and zero-loss transmission of electricity on a scale that will deliver energy independence for Europe through a European Supergrid as envisaged by wind-energy entrepreneur Eddie O’Connor in “An engineering vison for a New Europe”.

Step 11: Prepare a financial roadmap that demonstrates how to supplement long-term reducing returns to investors from the ever-decreasing cost of producing renewable energy by returns from the industrial and municipal users of the Supergrid (e.g. as blockchain-authenticated, profit-sharing and payment agreements).

Step 12: Use Supergrid technology and financial roadmaps as the basis of forging a grand collaboration with energy majors to invest in and implement the infrastructure to realise the renewable energy production for the European Supergrid as a forerunner to electricity grids worldwide.

Step 13: Evaluate the feasibility of Supergrids for other regions of the world, noting that in Africa not only could low-cost, non-polluting energy be delivered but also ammonia for fertilisers that African farming desperately needs.


HIAlba-IDEA’s proposed programme of work.

The new think tank has an ambitious programme of work which is summarised in the Overview paper available above, the contents of which are given here:


Foreword – Bravely Innovating

Executive Summary

  1. Introduction
  1. The 3D era
  1. Beyond 3D – Profiling and Networking Startups
  1. Productivity Gains by Transitioning to Export Powerhouse
  1. Proposed Papers
    • Innovation in Building Social Capital to Maximise Well-Being
    • Hydrogen Scotland: A Route to Export Powerhouse
    • Investment in Demonstrations of Hydrogen Scotland Technologies
    • Investment in the Deployment of Hydrogen Scotland Technologies and Advances
    • Scoping the Extent of Eco-Industrialising the Highlands and Islands
    • Crofting as a Catalyst for Hydrogen Scotland Development and Eco-Industrialisation
    • Greenprint for a Lead Community on the Isle of Skye
    • Appraisal of Manufacturing and Service Export Opportunities
    • A Business Case for Operating an Implementation Capacity on the Isle of Skye

5.10 Evaluation of the National Socio-Economic and Environmental Impacts

  1. Regional Contributions to Raising Productivity and Powering Export Performance
  1. Exports in Medicine & Healthcare
  1. Exports in Education & Training
  1. Why Scotland?


Founders Bios

Prof Ronald MacDonald

Ronald is a Professor in Macroeconomics and International Finance at the Adam Smith Business School, University of Glasgow. Prior to this he held the Bonar Macfie Chair of economics, 2005-2006, and the Adam Smith Chair of Political Economy 2006-20015, both at Glasgow University. From 1992 to 2004 he was Professor of International Finance at the University of Strathclyde and from 1989-91 held the Robert Fleming Chair in Finance and Investment, at the University of Dundee.

Ronald has published over 150 refereed journal articles and authored or edited over 18 books and Google scholar ascribes over 350 written pieces in total to him. His peer reviewed papers are published in the Economic professions’ leading journals. He is also a Research Fellow of the CESifo Research Network, Munich, and an International Fellow of the Kiel Institute of Economic Policy. He is also an associate editor for six economics journals and has over 16,000 citations recorded on Google Scholar to his written work. and he consistently ranks in the top 1% of the IDEAS/RePec ranking of economists in the UK, Europe and in the World. Ronald was awarded an OBE in the 2015 Queens Birthday Honours list for services to Economic Policy.

He has acted as a consultant advisor, on a large range of topics, to the European Commission, General Secretariat for Development Planning, Qatar, the European Central Bank, The World Bank, The IMF, the Monetary Authority of Singapore, The UK National Audit Office and the Reserve Bank of New Zealand and has also been a visiting scholar to the Deutsche Bundesbank, the Austrian Central Bank, and the Norwegian Central Bank. Additionally, he has been a visiting Scholar and Consultant to the Research Department of the IMF on 13 separate occasions, Visiting Economist to the African department of the IMF and appointed a Monetary Advisor to the IMF in 2012. He has also been a consultant to a number of private sector institutions, including Royal Bank of Scotland (in the 1990s), Credit Suisse First Boston, Gartmore and Deutsche Morgan Grenfell.

Dr Donald MacRae

Work life has included private sector management positions, under-secretary positions in the Australian Government in Canberra, director of corporate planning in CSIRO, and private consulting experience in economic, energy, environmental, urban & regional development projects in 28 countries in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, North America, Europe, and Oceania.  He has directed major projects in global modelling, international drylands management, and R&D prioritisation for agencies in Australia and worldwide.

The Global Models & the Policy Process (G-MAPP) Project involved coordinating comparisons and integration of modelling ventures by Donald’s group in the Australian Government, UK Cabinet Office, OECD Interfutures Project, World Bank’s World Model, and UN’s World IO Model.  The International Drylands Project attracted funding from 14 international agencies resulting in tabling the executive report Drylands Dilemma at the Governing Council of UNEP and publication of the books The Economics of Drylands Management and Drylands Management: Case Studies.  Expanding the pollution control focus of the OECD to encompass natural resources management involved many working sessions in Paris.

The workshop-based R&D prioritisation process developed by CSIRO, Australia’s largest science and research organisation, was adopted by numerous national and regional organisations in Australia and worldwide, several through the London-based Commonwealth Science Council.  Relevant consultancy projects include:

  1. Facilitated 1990 Australian Government & CSIRO Workshop on Economics of Climate Change producing report entitled Economic analysis for responding to greenhouse climate change (page 57 April 1991).
  2. “Kick started” the Hastings 2000 Project to establish a model ‘ecotechnopolis’ for 75,000 residents sustaining a wide range of highly skilled and professional employment and business development opportunities, on the mid north coast of New South Wales – published in Urban Living in a Natural Environment report to the NSW Government – and commissioned use of nation’s leading national economic model to estimate increases in national productivity and growth from 25 similar developments compared with business as usual – Assessing National Economic Benefits of Decentralised Development through Hastings 2000 Projects.
  3. Participated in preparatory meetings and contributed as a keynote speaker to the Asia and Pacific Interparliamentary Conference on “Science and Technology for Regional Sustainable Development”, Tokyo, 13-17 June 1994.
  4. Submitted a winning entry to the 1994 OECD Ecological Cities ProjectJerrabomberra: sustainable living in the 21st century and prepared follow up report the Australian Government.
  5. ACT Green Jobs – report for the Australian Capital Territory Government on creation of jobs, based on development of environmental industries and associate R&D, technologies, goods and services.
  6. ACT Waste Management – 1996 report leading to ACT Government’s policy goal of No Waste by 2010.
    The 2010 verdict.
  7. Commonwealth Science Council (CSC) – conducted numerous strategic, scenario and priority planning workshops and projects in many Commonwealth countries for London-based CSC.
  8. Development of A Regional Development Policy for Western Australia resulting from harnessing and distilling the insights of numerous stakeholders in 9 regions.
  9. Facilitation of a World Study Tour and provision of a Social Benefit-Cost Analysis as key inputs to a masterplan for St Andrews, a new city for 150,000 residents north of Perth, Western Australia;
  10. Provided the “green print” attracting $10m for the establishment of GREEN IncGippsland Region Economy & Ecology Network Inc – to stimulate the creation of and investment in creation of green jobs and enterprises for the Gippsland region.
  11. Impact of Sustainable Urban & Regional Development on Economic Performance in Indonesia with CSIRO, University of Indonesia, and numerous Indonesian agencies.
  12. Impact of High-Performance Computing Technologies on Australian Industry for the Australian Government.
  13. Supported the development of strategic approaches to setting priorities for Murray Darling Basin Commission (see Annual Report 1999-2000), the Cooperative Research Centre for Plant-Based Management of Drylands Salinity, and the Cooperative Research Centre for Greenhouse Accounting.
  14. Review and evaluation of the effectiveness in 2004 of the climate change research program funded by the Australian Government; External review of the Australian Greenhouse Science Programme.
  15. Stakeholder-driven 25-year scenario planning project for the Avon River Basin of Western Australia: Avon River Basin 2050: Four regional scenarios for the next half-century; Avon River Basin: Confronting our Future; The Avon River Basin in 2050: scenario planning in the Western Australian Wheatbelt.


[1] Air pollution kills more people than smoking, German scientists say – 64,000 pa excess deaths in UK and 790,000 pa in Europe.


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