Scotland ferments whisky biofuel in world first

A Scottish whisky distillery is set to become the first in the world to have its waste by-products converted into biofuel in a pilot demonstration project.

Tullibardine, an independent malt whisky producer in Perthshire, has signed a memorandum of understanding with Celtic Renewables which has developed the technology to produce biobutanol from the process.

Celtic is a spin-out company from the Biofuel Research Centre (BfRC) at Edinburgh Napier University. Long term, its aim is to build a processing plant in Scotland that will help grow a projected £60m per annum industry.

The distillery is supplying raw materials to help refine the conversion process at the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) at Redcar, in Teesside.

The initiative is being funded with the aid of a £155,000 grant from Zero Waste Scotland and has the support of ministers as it will contribute to the Scottish Government’s target of reducing carbon emissions by 42% by 2020 and the EU mandated biofuel target of 10% by 2020.

The by-products from Tullibardine’s process are currently spread on agricultural fields, turned into animal feed or discharged into the sea under license, amounting to yearly disposal costs of £250,000.

Managing director Douglas Ross said converting the waste into biofuel “turns it into something that has social as well as commercial value”.

The conversion technology has already been proven at small lab-scale level of three litres of pot ale – as it enters industrial scale testing, it will be scaled up to 10,000 litres.

According to Celtic Renewables CEO Mark Simmers, piloting the fermentation at commercial scale will demonstrate the viability of the process as a “new and important industry of potential scale for Scotland”.

Because distilleries currently produce around three times more pot ale than draff, the company is also considering other sustainable sources of sugar-rich raw materials, such as the by-products from breweries or paper waste, to help it convert the excess into biofuel.

“If we were to use all the by-products from Scottish distilleries, it would still leave us with almost 1.5bn litres of pot ale,” observed Simmers.

“We could make at least the same volume of fuels again by using alternative waste or residue material such as paper and brewery waste.”

Maxine Perella

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