Have a drink… help the planet.
That could be the tagline for Celtic Renewables – an intriguing firm that’s combining whisky production with energy generation.
Sounds like an odd couple, doesn’t it?
Sometimes, though, the best innovations come from the unlikeliest places…
And that’s certainly the case here.
Whisky: It’s Not Just for Drinking
It’s no secret that Scotland is famous for its whisky. But the team at Edinburgh-based Celtic Renewables has discovered that whisky production also produces another benefit, aside from enjoying malts and blends.
So much so, in fact, the company is about to start large-scale commercial production of biobutanol – a fuel generated from the waste residue left behind during the whisky fermentation process, which can be used to power cars.
As Celtic Renewables Founder and President Martin Tangney reveals, “In the production of whisky, less than 10% of what comes out in the distillery is actually the primary product. The bulk of the remainder is these unwanted residues – pot ale and barley. What we can do is combine these two together, create a brand-new raw material, apply a different fermentation technology, and convert the residual good material into high-value products. In particular, biobutanol – an advanced biofuel that’s an exact replacement for petrol or diesel.”
It’s so exact because the company has adapted a century-old fermentation process called acetone-butanol-ethanol, which was abandoned once the era of cheap gasoline took hold.
It’s proven highly successful, too.
Forget Corn and Sugar… Just Use Whisky
Having first made biobutanol in the lab, the team expanded the process and started cranking out industrial-sized quantities at a Belgian plant in 2014.
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Now, equipped with an £11 million grant from the U.K. government, Celtic Renewables is building a specific biofuel plant in Scotland, so it can continue producing the fuel.
And if you think this is just another flawed alternative energy resource, Tangney says biobutanol is actually more potent than bioethanol, which is made from corn or cane sugar.
As a result, biobutanol “inherently has more energy. It has almost the same amount of energy as petrol, whereas bioethanol only has 70% of it. You can store it, pipe it, and use the existing infrastructure to distribute it, and you don’t need to modify an engine, either. So this is a genuine like-for-like substitution for oil or diesel. And the fuel isn’t restricted to automobiles. It’s currently being trialed in shipping industry and is a very good base unit for jet fuel.”
Tangney doesn’t think biobutanol will replace petrol, but will instead be blended with it, thus reducing oil consumption and cutting emissions.
And the technology could also be used to ferment the waste from other spirits.
Celtic Renewables’ new plant should be up and running within three years and be capable of producing up to one million liters of biofuel a year.
Cheers to that!