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Thrifty Scots recycle whisky waste into biofuel

Launched on January 25 as a spin-off from Scotland-based Edinburgh Napier University's Biofuels Research Centre, Celtic Renewables Ltd. is a new company formed to commercialize a process for producing a next generation biofuel (and other high value sustainable products) from the by-products of biological industries. The initial focus is on the waste products derived from whisky production.

Launched on January 25 as a spin-off from Scotland-based Edinburgh Napier University's Biofuels Research Centre, Celtic Renewables Ltd. is a new company formed to commercialize a process for producing a next generation biofuel (and other high value sustainable products) from the by-products of biological industries. The initial focus is on the waste products derived from whisky production.

Barley
Scotch whisky feedstock: barley grains, courtesy Scotch Whisky Assn.
Celtic Renewables Ltd. is re-developing a defunct - but proven - fermentation technology that makes efficient use of two main byproducts of whisky production as feedstock: "pot ale," which is the liquid from the copper stills, and "draff," which is the spent grains. The patented technology converts these by-products into "green chemicals", including biobutanol, which is a direct drop-in replacement for gasoline.

 "The Scottish malt whisky industry is a ripe resource for developing biobutanol," said Professor Martin Tangney, founder of Celtic Renewables and Director of the Biofuel Research Centre. "The pot ale and draff could be converted into biofuel as a direct substitute for fossil-derived fuel, which would reduce oil consumption and C02 emissions while also providing energy security-particularly in the rural and remote homelands of the whisky industry."

The technology developed by Celtic Renewables is an innovation of the ABE Fermentation Process, invented in the run-up to the First World War. The technology was then used until the 1960s to produce solvents, after which it lost out to the petrochemical industry. The technology can be readily adapted for re-introduction in a modern biotechnology context. As the process is wholly based on the use of by-products, it has a significant advantage over bioethanol, which, at present, uses food crops as feedstock.

The company also carries the support of the Scottish Whisky Association and the Government, where this process is well aligned to both national biofuel and carbon reduction targets.

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