Whiskey Charts Course From Drink To Biofuel

When it comes to green, Scotland has more than that famous lush greenery going on. Over the last year alone, the country commissioned its first grid-tied commercial scale tidal turbine, signed lease agreements for five new offshore wind farms and dedicated £35 million ($54 million) in support of the marine and tidal renewables industry.

In fact, projects representing £750 million ($1185 million USD) of investment in renewables came online in Scotland in 2011, with a whopping £46 billion ($73 billion USD) still in the pipeline, putting this part of the United Kingdom on track to meet its ambitious goal of meeting 100 percent of its electricity needs with clean energy by 2020.

All of which, you’d have to say, spells a pretty clear focus on the future.

image via Shutterstock

Scotland’s latest green innovation, however, draws on one of its rich cultural traditions, hailing back to between 1100 and 1300 A.D.: whisky (that potent beverage known elsewhere as scotch, and spelled elsewhere with an ‘e’).

Celtic Renewables is a new company recently spun off of Edinburgh Napier University’s Biofuel Research Centre in order to commercialize a process for producing biofuel made from the by-products of whisky. We initially reported in 2010 about efforts in the lab to make a go at this as a business and now the initial focus, of course, will be on Scotland’s £4 billion ($6.3 billion USD) malt whisky industry (!) and developing bio-butanol — a next generation biofuel — and other renewable chemicals.

Nor is the potential for this innovative process confined to spent whisky mash, as researchers have noted it as possessing “huge global potential” in terms of its adaption to other biological by-products. (Perhaps certain types of by-products found in abundance in, say, Milwaukee, Wisco.?)

This fermentation process makes use of the two main by-products of whisky production: ‘pot ale’, which is the liquid from the copper stills, and ‘draff’, the spent grains. And while oil production may fall off in the years to come, Scottish whisky production shows no sign of shortage any time soon, as the industry currently produces 1600 million litres (422 million gallons) of pot ale and 500,000 tonnes (551,155 tons) of draff each year.

Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.