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Whisky Byproducts — the Next Car Fuel?

  • Deborah Block

We know we shouldn’t drink alcohol and drive. But whisky could help us be more environmentally friendly drivers.

Whisky byproducts are being transformed into biofuel, which could reduce oil consumption and cut emissions that contribute to global warming.

Scotland is the world’s largest whisky producer. Scottish professor Martin Tangney has discovered how to take the waste products from distilling whisky and turn them into biobutanol, an alcohol that can be used as fuel.

“In the production of whisky, less than 10 percent of what comes out in the distillery is actually the primary product," he said. “The bulk of the remainder are these two unwanted residues — pot ale and barley.”

Those residues are combined to create a new raw material. And by adapting a century-old fermentation process, it is converted into biobutanol. Tangney said the whisky-based biofuel provides more power than bioethanol, which is made from corn or sugar cane.

“It has almost the same amount of energy as petrol [gasoline], whereas bioethanol has only got 70 percent of it. You can store it, and pipe it, and use the existing infrastructure to distribute this, and in fact, you do not need to modify an engine,” Tangney said.

Tangney, director of Edinburgh Napier University’s biofuel research center, founded Celtic Renewables, a private, Edinburgh-based company that is producing biobutanol at a plant in Belgium. He doesn’t expect biobutanol to replace gasoline altogether, but be blended with it. It’s possible the fuel may also be used in planes and ships, and in heaters.

He said consumers would also be helping the environment by “reducing the oil that we consume by putting this into their cars.”

His company has received a $17 million grant from the British government to build a plant in Scotland that’s expected to be operational within three years.