Biofuel from whisky: Scottish pioneers receive funding boost

The world's first producer of viable biofuel capable of powering cars from whisky production residues has secured a new £500,000 investment to scale up industrial production.

Scottish company Celtic Renewables, a spin-out company from the Biofuel Research Centre (BfRC) at Edinburgh Napier University, unveiled last month the first samples of bio-butanol after a year of research. It now hopes to reintroduce the process to Europe for the first time since the 1960s, after receiving financial support.

The company secured £250,000 from the Scottish Investment Bank – the investment arm of Scottish enterprise – and a further £250,000 from an existing private investor.

“I am pleased that the Scottish Investment Bank has given support to Celtic Renewables,” Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing said: “This helps ensure a future where we see less emissions from fossil fuel driven cars and instead have reduced emissions from vehicles powered from the by-products of Scotland’s world-renowned and successful whisky industry.”

Barley to biofuel

The first samples of bio-butanol were produced using a process called Acetone-Butanol-Ethanol (ABE) fermentation in partnership with Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant (BBEPP) in Belgium. The process has been developed as part of a £1m programme funded by the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) under its Energy Entrepreneurs Fund.

The ABE fermentation process is not new; developed a century ago it died out due to competition by the petrochemical industry. The biofuel is produced from draff – the sugar-rich kernels of barley which are soaked in water to facilitate the fermentation process necessary for whisky production – and pot ale, the copper-containing yeasty liquid that is left over following distillation.

At the unveiling of the first samples, Energy Secretary Ed Davey said: “This novel technology takes the by-products of Scotland’s finest export to power vehicles, and it is this kind of world-leading innovation that the Energy Entrepreneur Fund was designed for.

“The UK is one of the best innovation nations in the world and since 2011 have pumped over £1bn into low-carbon innovation alone. This is a great achievement for the team at Celtic Renewables to achieve this historic milestone in biofuel development.”

Innovation nation

Celtic Renewables is also seeking funding from the Department for Transport’s (DfT’s) £25m advanced biofuel demonstration competition. If successful it plans on building its first demonstration facility at the Grangemouth petrochemical plant by 2018. The company estimates the market could eventually be worth £100m to the UK economy.

Scotland is set to become a world leader in biofuel development as the Scottish Government also recently launched the National Plan for Industrial Biotechnology which aims to help increase industrial biotechnology to £900million by 2025.

A study published in January said that biofuels produced with low or no risk of indirect land use change (ILUC) must have a significant contribution to achieving the European Union’s 2020 climate and energy targets in transport. 

Biofuels at Sustainability Live 2015

Fuel made from waste could replace 16% of all the fuel used on European roads by 2030 according to research, but the UK is failing to harness this bioenergy potential. The uptake of biofuels will be discussed in detail at Sustainability Live in April, with a session at the Energy Recovery Theatre examining the opportunities and challenges in converting waste to fuel.

Find out more and register to attend Sustainability Live 2015 for FREE here.

Lucinda Dann

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