From Whisky to Biofuel

Scottish Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse this week announced investment of £1.5 million in a project aimed at boosting offshore wind which it is hoped will help move renewables towards self sufficiency.

The Carbon Trust which runs the project – called the Offshore Wind Accelerator (OWA) – has stated the work the project is currently carrying out will help end the need for subsidies in the industry.

Carbon Trust director Jan Matthiesen said the funding showed real confidence in the ability of the project to drive down costs and make development and deployment more viable adding “This signals continuing support and investment into a programme that has helped to reduce the costs of offshore wind and helped to pave the way towards a subsidy-free energy source.”

The Scottish Government provided the same amount in 2016 and Paul Wheelhouse made the announcement for this year’s investment at a visit to Burntisland Fabrication yard in Methil, Fife.

Speaking of the new investment he said “The Scottish Government’s decision to invest a further £1.5m into the OWA is a ringing endorsement of the great potential of this programme to help Scotland to utilise the full potential of offshore wind, and to ensure that we make it as affordable as possible.

“The Carbon Trust have done a fantastic job so far in reducing the costs of offshore wind, as well as encouraging collaboration across the public and private sectors to improve the industry as a whole.

“The potential benefits of offshore wind energy in Scotland are enormous, which is why the Scottish Government is committed to its development. By continuing to invest in it, not only are we stimulating economic change for the better, but we’re also helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Scotland and helping to fight the impacts of climate change.”

Lindsay Roberts, of industry body Scottish Renewables, said: “Scotland has huge amounts to gain from offshore wind and it’s an incredibly exciting time for the industry.”

While wind energy remains the country’s most productive form of renewable energy one of the country’s most traditional industries, whisky distilling, is also now lending its support to renewable energy in the form of a biofuel called biotanol.

Biotanol, a direct replacement for traditional fuel, is produced from draff, the sugar-rich kernels of barley which are soaked in water to facilitate the fermentation process necessary for whisky production.

It is normally discarded following the distillation process however Scottish Company Celtic Renewables believe it could be refined using a groundbreaking process to be used in vehicle transport.

Tullibardine Distillery have teamed up with Celtic Renewables to produce the fuel for commercial purposes. Professor Martin Tangney, the company’s founder and President, commented “This is the first time in history that a car has ever been driven with a biofuel produced from whisky production residues.

“ It is fitting to do this historic drive in Scotland, which is famous not just for its world-renowned whisky but also for being a powerhouse for renewable energy. Celtic Renewables is playing its part in sustainability by taking this initiative from a research project at Edinburgh Napier University to, what we believe will be, a multi-billion-pound global business with the opportunity to turn transport green.”

With over £8 million of funding support from the Scottish government and private investors, the company plans to open a factory in 2018 able to produce 500,000 litres of the fuel per year.

Tullibardine distillery manager John Torrance added: “Right from the outset when Celtic Renewables approached us we could see the game-changing potential of a new fuel created from our by-products. We’re a forward thinking distillery and we’re happy to support what promises to be a groundbreaking first for renewable energy, for transport and for the Scottish whisky industry alike.”

Putting together two of Scotland’s greatest exports, whisky and renewable energy, looks like a perfect match up. Although the current distillation process is a very modern one the industry itself is one of Scotland’s most traditional.

Renewable energy is very much in the modern category but with the resources we have it was always an industry that was going to thrive here, given the correct strategy.

Up until recently it has done but with changes to government strategy it may not for too much longer. Therefore it is important that projects like the Offshore Wind Accelerator can show a sustainable model without the need for subsidy.

If projects like this are successful they will attract further private investment which in turn should lead them to be even more sustainable and less reliant on government investment.

However while we believe wind energy will provide the majority of our renewable energy for many years to come we must not be completely reliant on it. Other traditional sources of renewable energy such as solar and hydro will also provide a large percentage of our requirements but other newer innovative projects will go a long way to securing a 100% renewable future.

This is where new projects such as Biotanol are vital. Scotland produces a lot of whisky approximately 99 million cases were exported in 2015. Should the Celtic Renewables / Tullibardine Distillery project prove to be commercially viable then there are 114 other distilleries that no doubt will look to get in on the act.

That could mean over 60 million litres of high quality biofuel produced each year in Scotland without the need of any additional plant growth or land use. Something that we believe is worth getting excited about.

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