World’s first biofuel from whisky residues aim for lead in £100m market

A Scottish company has revived a defunct fermentation technology to create biofuel from the residues of whisky production.

Edinburgh-based Celtic Renewables said it now plans to build a production facility in central Scotland after manufacturing the world’s first samples of bio-butanol from the by-products of whisky fermentation.

Celtic Renewables is a spin-out company from the Biofuel Research Centre (BfRC) at Edinburgh Napier University that has developed its process as part of a £1m programme funded by the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) under its Energy Entrepreneurs Fund.

The company said it is now seeking funding from the Department for Transport’s (DfT’s) £25m advanced biofuel demonstration competition and, if successful, hopes to build its first demonstration facility at the Grangemouth petrochemical plant by 2018.

Company owners estimate it could be the market leader in an industry worth more than £100m to the UK economy.

Celtic Renewables, in partnership with the Ghent-based BioBase Europe Pilot Plant (BBEPP), produced the first samples of bio-butanol from waste using a process called Acetone-Butanol-Ethanol (ABE) fermentation earlier this month.

ABE fermentation was first developed in the UK a century ago, but died out in competition with the petrochemical industry. However bio-butanol is now recognised as an advanced biofuel and Celtic is seeking to reintroduce the process to Europe for the first time since the 1960s, using the millions of tonnes of annual whisky production residues as its raw material.

The 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 a statement, Prof Martin Tangney, the company’s founder and president, said:  ‘We have successfully taken a defunct technology and adapted it to current market conditions, attracting the investment and partners required to scale-up to industrial production and prove that this works at scale.’

Winners of the DfT competition will receive funding of up to £12m over three years to build a biofuel facility that should be operational by December 2018 and producing at least one million litres of biofuel-a-year that is compatible with automotive engines.

Mark Simmers, CEO of Celtic Renewables, said: ‘The process we have perfected takes residues that present a disposal issue to the whisky industry and creates value by producing not only sustainable biofuel but also green chemicals and high grade animal feed.

‘The exciting challenge for us now as a business is to convert our proven technology into a multimillion pound industry, and building our first demonstration plant is the next critical step to achieving that goal.’

The by-products were provided by Tullibardine, the Perthshire distillery that has worked in partnership with Celtic since 2012. Click here to read more.