Whisky biofuel samples unveiled

Published: Wednesday 25th February 2015 by The News Editor

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A scientist has produced the first commercially viable fuel to be developed from whisky by-products.

Professor Martin Tangney, director of Napier University’s biofuel research centre, has produced an advanced biofuel called biobutanol, which could provide an alternative to oil for car and aviation fuel as well as other technologies.

Whisky accounts for just 10% of the material produced in distilleries, with the remaining biological raw materials disposed of at a cost to the industry.

Prof Tangney has set up a business called Celtic Renewables which will take those by-products and turn them into fuel.

He unveiled the first-ever samples of biobutanol at the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh.

“The underlying technology that we use in this process is actually 100 years old,” he said.

“It’s fermentation known as the ABE fermentation, which was developed in the UK mainly to produce acetone for explosives in the First World War, and by the end of the Second World War it was the second biggest biological process that the world had seen.

“It died out in the 1960s because it couldn’t compete with the petrochemical industry as a source of these chemicals.

“But in 2006 an American inventor by the name of David Ramey drove a car 10,000 miles around America using only butanol in a totally unmodified engine, and that showed the world that this chemical could be used as an advanced biofuel.

“What I sought to do as a scientist who had experience in the area was to see if I could adapt that proven technology into a modern context, but instead of using crops as the raw material, could I find some other abundant residue that would allow me to make this at scale?

“We looked at the Scottish malt whisky industry as a source of this raw material.

“Less than 10% of what comes out of a distillery is actually whisky and the other products have no, limited or even negative value to the industry.

“That, to me, looked like a great source of raw material, which we developed first in a research project and then we scaled up in the last year with funding from the Department of Energy and Climate Change, working in partnership with a state-of-the-art industrial test facility in Belgium called Biobase Europe Pilot Plant.

“We’ve scaled this up from the lab to a pre-commercial scale.”

Published: Wednesday 25th February 2015 by The News Editor

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