A Scottish company is planning the large-scale commercial production of biobutanol made from the waste products of whisky fermentation. Jim Drury went to find out more.
It's probably Scotland's most famous export. But whisky could also have a role in saving the planet. Edinburgh firm Celtic Renewables produces biobutanol, a fuel that can power cars, from the unwanted residue of whisky production. SOUNDBITE (English) CELTIC RENEWABLES FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT, MARTIN TANGNEY, SAYING: "In the production of whisky less than ten percent of what comes out in the distillery is actually the primary product. The bulk of the remainder are 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 in here into high-value products and in particular this - biobutanol, which is an advanced biofuel which is an exact replacement for petrol or diesel." The company has re-adapted a century-old fermentation process called Acetone-Butanol-Ethanol, abandoned in the era of cheap gasoline. Professor Martin Tangney's team first made biobutanol in their lab at Edinbugh Napier University, but last year began producing industrial sized quantities at this Belgian plant. An 11 million pound UK government grant will allow it to build its own bespoke biofuel plant in Scotland. Tangney says its fuel is more powerful and advanced than bioethanol, which is produced from sugar cane or corn. SOUNDBITE (English) CELTIC RENEWABLES FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT, MARTIN TANGNEY, SAYING: "So inherently it has more energy, it has almost the same amount of energy as petrol, whereas bioethanol has only got 70 percent of it. You can store it and pipe it and use the existing infrastructure to distribute this, and in fact you do not need to modify an engine. So this is a genuine like-for-like substitution for oil or diesel - and moreover the fuel is not restricted to automobiles. It's currently being trialled in shipping industry and is a very good base unit for jet fuel." The new plant should be operational within three years, producing up to a million litres of biofuel a year. Tangney thinks biobutanol won't replace petrol, but will be blended with it, reducing oil consumption and cutting emissions. The technology could also be used to ferment the waste from other spirits....another potential reason to drink to its success.