Scottish firm wins £11m grant to make fuel from whisky waste

Scottish biofuels specialist Celtic Renewables has won an £11m government grant to help build a plant that produces biofuel from residues of the whisky industry.

One of three biofuels producers to share in a £25 million funding pot awarded by the Department for Transport (DfT), the Edinburgh-based firm will use the cash to build a biofuel facility that will be operational by December 2018. The company claims that it will produce at least 1 million litres of biofuel – capable of powering cars – every year.

Prof Martin Tangney, the company’s founder and president, explained that the facility will be used to carry out or acetone-butanol-ethanol (ABE) fermentation.

This process uses bacterial fermentation to produce biofuels from carbohydrates such as starch and glucose. It was originally devised in the UK at the start of the last century to produce acetone for explosives used in the First World War, but was phased-out in the 1960s due to competition from the petrochemical industry.

ABE Fermentation
This diagram shows the process by which the two by-products: draff and pot ale are mixed, treated and fermented to produce a broth containing biofuel

“Our aim”, said Prof Tangney, “is to reintroduce that process but in a modern context which allows us to use the leftovers from the whisky industry to create a fuel source that contributes to the low carbon future we all want.”

During the firm’s process, 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.

In addition to the DfT funding the firm has already attracted private sector investment, and is currently looking at opening a demonstration facility close to Grangemouth in Stirlingshire.

The two other companies to win DfT funding are Teesside-based Nova Pangaea, which produces biofuel from forestry waste, and Swindon-based Advanced Plasma Products.

Prof. Martin Tangney - Founder, President and Chief Scientific Officer
Prof. Martin Tangney – Founder, President and Chief Scientific Officer