Sustainability, Waste and Whisky

Scotch whisky is not only Scotland’s biggest export it is now being used to power some of the country’s homes. Diageo, the global alcohol conglomerate, has announced plans to consturct a biomass power plant at it’s distillery complex in Glenlossie. This follows investments in similar schemes at other Diageo sites in Fife and Roseisle.

This new plant will be fueled by a combination of wood-chip pellets and graff. Graff is spent grain; a waste product from the distilling process. The use of graff to produce more whisky will reduce money spent on power for the distiller as well as making operations at the Glenlossie site sustainable. It is expected that the plant will use 30,000 tons of graff per annum which will be left over from the production of approximately 3.2 million gallons of whisky. Diageo has stated that this will result in a reduction in carbon emissions of 6,000 tons a year which is equivalent to removing 1,600 family cars from the road.

Brian Higgs, Diageo director of malt distilling released the following statement: “With Roseisle distillery we showed what can be achieved in using the natural by-products of our industry to produce green energy.

“Diageo is committed to reducing its reliance on fossil fuels and to reducing its reliance on fossil fuels and to reducing our overall impact on the environment. The plan for Glenlossie is another significant step in our journey towards that sustainable future for Scotch whisky production.”

Neill Stuart, the Chief Executive of Scottish Renewables stated that Scotland’s “world famous whisky industry is now increasingly looking to renewable fuel sources to power its operations with Diageo very much leading the way.

“Renewable heat and small-scale renewables have the potential to help all sorts of businesses generate new revenue or reduce costs while cutting carbon emissions.”

Additionally the Combination of Rothes Distillers announced earlier in the year that they will be working in partnership with Helius Energy (a British Biomass company) to build a biofuel power plant in Speyside (one of Scotland’s traditional whisky heartlands ) which will be the first such facility in the country to provide power to both industry and to the public. The planned facility is intended to power 9,000 homes in the local area by burning a combination of draff and wood pellets.

This news has not met with an entirely positive reaction. WWF (Worldwide Wildlife Fund) Scotland have questioned how the wood pellets will be sourced, arguing that unless the pellets were obtained from a local and sustainable source then any carbon reductions achieved from reduced usage of fossil fuels would be cancelled out by emissions produced by importing them. Sam Gardner, the organisations climate policy officer said: “It is using waste products from our whisky industry which is an eminently sensible thing to do, and is producing heat both for whisky production and for the local community. We would want to see assurance, however, that the biomass was sustainably sourced.”

The shift to renewable power comes at a time when the whisky industry is seeing strong growth in exports. For the first half of the year exports reached a value of £1.8 billion, an increase of 22% on the first half of 2010. The US is the industry’s top export market by value, shipments to this market were up 14% to £276.6 million. France was the biggest market by volume, importing 94.8 million 70cl bottles which was an increase of 18%.

However the biggest rises were seen in emerging markets such as Central and Southern America (which saw an increase of 49% to £214.4 million), Taiwan (increased by 45% to £70.3 million) and Singapore (increased by 64% to £148.5 million). The chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, Gavin Hewitt attributed these large increases to “a growing mixture of affluence and aspiration” amongst an emerging middle class as well as “recent breakthroughs in trade relations”.

It is right then that Scotland’s biggest exporting industry should be involved in the country’s renewable revolution.Such a key part of the Scottish economy should and is insulating itself against the increasingly volatile fossil fuel markets.