Scientists Develop Way to Turn Whisky Waste Products Into Usable Clean Energy

Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

Drink up — you might be helping the environment.

Reuters reports Celtic Renewables, a firm based out of Edinburgh, Scotland, has developed a method of converting waste products from the whisky distillation process into usable biobutanol. The man behind the research, professor Martin Tangney, devised a way to use a modified century-old process known as "Acetone-Butanol-Ethanol" to convert the distillery waste products of pot ale and draff into an efficient biofuel.

The U.K. government has awarded Tangney's company $16.7 million to construct a plant dedicated to producing the fuel, according to Reuters.

"In the production of whisky less than 10 percent of what comes out in the distillery is actually the primary product," Tangney told Reuters. "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."

According to National Geographic, just 10% of the output of whisky distilleries is actually whisky. The remaining 422.7 million gallons of pot ale and 500,000 metric tons of draff produced every year have been dealt with much like any other waste product. Previous efforts to reuse the products have included mixing the draff with woodchips for burning at waste-to-energy plants or using the pot ale to make fertilizer and animal feed.

Biobutanol contains far more energy than other agriculturally derived fuel sources like corn ethanol, which the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded last year is not an ideal fuel source when considering the energy that goes into growing crops.

In his interview with Reuters, Tangney said the biobutanol produced by the process is an "exact replacement for petrol or diesel" and can be burned by existing vehicle engines without any modification. It also produces much less pollution compared to fossil fuels.

While biofuels have been hailed as more environmentally friendly alternative to traditional fuel sources like coal and gasoline, some have been critical of the industry for diverting badly needed land and other agricultural resources from feeding the poor to fuel production in countries like Guatemala.

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Tom McKay

Tom is a staff writer at Mic, covering national politics, media, policing and the war on drugs. He is based in New York and can be reached at tmckay@mic.com.

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