Topping up at the petrol pump is about to take an intriguing twist thanks to a new super biofuel made from whisky by-products. Edinburgh Napier University has filed a patent for the new biofuel, which can be used in ordinary cars without any special adaptions. The innovative fuel process has been developed over the last two years by Edinburgh Napier’s Biofuel Research Centre. As part of their research, the centre was provided with samples of whisky distilling by-products from Diageo’s Glenkinchie Distillery. The £260,000 research project was funded by Scottish Enterprise’s ‘Proof of Concept’ programme.
The Edinburgh Napier team focused on the £4bn whisky industry as a ripe resource for developing biobutanol – the next generation of biofuel which gives 30% more output power than ethanol. It uses the two main by-products of the whisky production process – ‘pot ale’, the liquid from the copper stills, and ‘draff’, the spent grains, as the basis for producing the butanol that can then be used as fuel.
With 1,600 million litres of pot ale and 187,000 tonnes of draff produced by the malt whisky industry annually, there is real potential for bio-fuel to be available at local garage forecourts alongside traditional fuels. Unlike ethanol, the nature of the innovative bio-fuel means that ordinary cars could use the more powerful fuel instead of traditional petrol. The product can also be used to make other green renewable bio-chemicals, such as acetone.
The University now plans to create a spin-out company to take the new fuel to market and leverage the commercial opportunity, in the bid to make it available at petrol pumps. Professor Martin Tangney, Director of the Biofuel Research Centre at Edinburgh Napier University, is leading the ground-breaking research. He said: “The EU has declared that biofuels should account for 10% of total fuel sales by 2020. We’re committed to finding new, innovative renewable energy sources. While some energy companies are growing crops specifically to generate biofuel, we are investigating excess materials such as whisky by-products to develop them”. “This is a more environmentally sustainable option and potentially offers new revenue on the back of one Scotland’s biggest industries. We’ve worked with some of the country’s leading whisky producers to develop the process” he added.
The technology for developing bio-fuel from whisky was inspired from a 100 year old process, created by Chaim Weizmann, a Jewish refugee chemist in Manchester who studied the butanol fermentation initially as part of a programme to produce rubber synthetically. The process was then used in explosives manufacture and helped win both WWI and WWII.