Richard Allen

 The managing director of Bruichladdich distillery made headlines recently because his car is powered from the waste-products of whisky manufacturing.  

Mark Reynier’s distillery is on Islay in the southern Hebrides, where the price of petrol and diesel is one of the highest in the UK. He bought a Nissan Leaf, which he charges from a generator, which runs on a biofuel  called “biobutanol”, which you get when you take pot ale –  a liquid waste-product from distilling – and subject it to a bit of anaerobic digestion. The other useful waste product is the spent barley, known as “draff”. Draff is used to feed cattle, whose own waste-product, known as “manure”, is used to enrich the barley, which is used to make whisky. Very little goes to waste.

We know that innovative distillery managers can run their cars on the stuff, but what about the rest of us? Is it commercially viable?

It turns out that cars can run on biobutanol without the need for any special modifications, and biobutanol, we’re told, gives 30% more power than ethanol. The malt whisky business produces 1,600 million litres of pot ale and 187,000 tonnes of draff each year, apparently enough to allow hope for a UK-wide commercial enterprise. 

Edinburgh Napier University has been awarded grant funding by the UK government and by the Proof of Concept programme of Scottish Enterprise to research the area. They also have plans to create a company to take the fuel to petrol stations.  The research is interesting because of their potential contribution towards federal and governmental targets: the EU wants biofuel to account for 10 per cent of total fuel sales by 2020, and the Scottish Government has a Zero Waste Plan which sets targets of 70 per cent of waste to be recycled and a maximum of 5 per cent of waste to be sent to landfill, both by 2025.

The Scottish Government has also announced that a new Agri-Renewables Strategy would help landowners to realise the renewable energy potential of their land. This strategy feeds into the Scottish Government’s new 2020 Routemap for Renewable Energy in Scotland, which sets the challenging target of meeting the equivalent of 100 per cent of electricity demand from renewables by 2020.

“Scotland is currently experiencing a renewables revolution,” says Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead. “We are all on a steep learning curve.”

I’ll leave you for now with this article on China’s attempts to deal with its demand for power. While the West has generally pulled back on investing in renewables, China has accelerated its investment in renewable power, and has given its energy suppliers some challenging targets.  

Challenging targets. Where have we heard that before? That’s right, the Scottish 2020 Routemap. I’ll tell you more about that in a forthcoming blog. Stay tuned.