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VIDEO: Scottish scientists turn whiskey waste into fuel

The scientists in Edinburgh use a 100-year-old scientific process to produce biobutanol and adapted it for whiskey.

LIKE IRELAND, SCOTLAND has a long tradition of whiskey production, with an industry worth €4.6 billion to the economy. However this comes at  a huge cost to the environment as it is one of the most energy-intensive industries.

At one distillery in Scotland, only about 3 per cent of all products that go through the distillery process end up in the bottle, with the remaining 97 per cent ending up as waste. It cost up to €293,000 a year to discard of this waste which is used for fertiliser and animal feed.

Scientists in Scotland, as well as some of the companies producing whiskey, are now looking at new ways to use the waste including turning it into biofuel, EuroParlTV reports.

Food crisis

The European Parliament is encouraging scientists to develop new ways of making biofuel as the practice of using crops led to a global food crisis, with land being cleared for fuel rather than food.

MEP Corrine Lepage said the idea is to move over to biofuels of the second and third generation which use either waste or a non-food part of plants.

“I think that’s a very interesting economic development model which could allow research and development to discover real prospects and to develop the European industry,” she said.

The Biofuel Research Centre in Edinburgh has now taken a 100-year-old scientific process to produce biobutanol – a next generation biofuel – and adapted it for whiskey. Professor Martin Tangney explains the process of turning the waste into a biofuel:

When you’ve malted the barley, you’re left with this material. Also when you distill off the alcohol, you’re left with the distillate from copper stills, so we developed a process where we combine this liquid material with this solid material and make a new raw material that we re-ferment with different organisms that produce high-value chemicals including this which is butanol.

Scaling this five litre lab model up to a 10,000 litre working plant would incur costs into the millions. However biofuel company Celtic Renewables is hoping to capitalise on the lab’s research.

Mark Simmers, Managing Director of the company said the business model is to take two very low-value commodities or residues and convert them into five or six much-needed high-value commodities. Celtic Renewables are now talking to small distilleries and larger companies such as Diageo to take their project to the next level.

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A spokesperson for Irish Distillers, which represents Jameson, told TheJournal.ie that resisdual cereals post distillation in are processed into a high quality animal feed that is sold into the Irish agricultural sector. Irish Distillers produces some 46,000 tonnes annual with the volume set to double in the coming years as the distillery capacity increases.

The company said it has “explored the possibility of using these products to produce energy but have no immediate plans to progress this option”.

Video used with the permission of EuroParlTV.

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