'Whisky fuel' plan to power cars

Whisky production The process looks to take whisky by-products and put them to use as fuel

A car that runs on whisky? Not quite. The price of petrol would have to climb a lot higher before that made economic sense.

But Celtic Renewables has been working on the next best thing. The company, a spin-out from Napier University in Edinburgh, has developed a process to make biofuel from Scotch whisky's leftovers.

Start Quote

It's an advanced biofuel which is a drop-in replacement for petrol”

End Quote Prof Martin Tangney Celtic Renewables

Only about 7% of the stuff that leaves our distilleries is whisky. The rest is variously referred to as by-product, residue or - less charitably - waste.

There are hundreds of thousands of tonnes a year of the spent barley kernels, known as draff, and billions of litres of liquid residue called pot ale. Both are rich in the kinds of sugars Scotch doesn't need. The Celtic Renewables process mixes the two and feeds it to clostridium bacteria.

The company's founder, Prof Martin Tangney, says the result is a fuel which can go straight into a petrol tank without having to modify the car.

"What we're trying to do is take the low value residues that are generated along with the whisky and see if we can convert those low value products into something of high value," he explains.

"In particular we're concentrating on biobutanol. It's an advanced biofuel which is a drop-in replacement for petrol."

Tractor at distillery Scientists hope to scale-up their work using the distilling residues

Prof Tangney says that by doing so they're learning from history.

"We've taken a process which at its peak was the second-biggest fermentation in the world," he says.

"We've adapted it to work with these residues from the distilling process so we can combine the pot ale with the draff and create a brand new raw material that our organisms can ferment.

"But instead of making ethanol for whisky they'll make biobutanol for fuel."

It already works in the laboratory. Now it'll be tested on an industrial scale in Belgium.

'Scaling up'

The Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant in Ghent has been designed specifically to "scale up" processes like this from the lab bench to the factory.

Prof Tangney says: "No-one's going to trust us to build a £100m facility if we've just demonstrated it at a laboratory scale.

"It's critical for the growth of the company and critical for growing this enterprise in Scotland that we can grow it as a real, live, vibrant industry.

"This partnership we've just signed with Bio Base Europe will enable us to achieve exactly that."

The deal has been made possible by funding worth £1.2m, including more than £800,000 from the UK government. (Scottish Enterprise chipped in Scottish government funding when the process was in its infancy.)

Whisky production The 'whisky' fuel would be able to be used in cars without having to modify engines

If the pilot in Belgium is successful, Celtic Renewables plans to build its first commercial demonstration plant in Scotland. It's eyeing a proposed £25m fund operated by the UK Department of Transport to help realise those plans.

Martin Tangney thinks it's an idea whose time has come.

"All the countries in Europe are mandated that 10% of all fuels sold in Europe by 2020 must be biofuel," he says.

"Some can come from crops, but the preference is that as much as possible should come from waste and residues. Our process fits perfectly in that longer-term ambition - to grow a sustainable industry in Scotland and beyond."

The company's CEO Mark Simmers thinks it could bring huge rewards.

"The new investment we've just raised is giving us a real industrial capability now," he adds.

"And once we've developed our first commercial demonstrator plant we're hoping to create an industry in Scotland worth over £100m a year."

Both men are confident the first industrial-scale samples of biobutanol made from distillery waste will be created within months.

And while they want to walk before they can drive, the first "whisky-powered" car may not be too far behind.

If they're looking for a date on which to launch it, Hogmanay springs to mind...

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Scotland Decides: SCOTLAND VOTES NO

  1. No 2,001,926
  2. Yes 1,617,989
After 32 of 32 counts Results in detail

Referendum Live

    Text 80295 08:25: Referendum - Your Views

    Anon: We were not tricked Mr Salmond, we voted NO because you did not have answers to the big important questions.

    Robert, Glasgow: Westminster will do what keeps the rest of the UK, their main electorate happy. They don't want to see more power go to Scotland so it won't happen. 1.6 million voices in Scotland will increase to 2.6 surely!

    Janine, East Lothian: Those who voted No did so for a range of reasons. What is clear in speaking to my family and friends is that many were unsure about full independence and were attracted by the devo-max we were promised at the last minute. If they don't deliver devo-max, surely the legitimacy of the whole referendum falls apart?

    08:10: What the papers say

    The Herald leads with a claim that Alex Salmond has argued that Scotland could achieve independence without another referendum.


    The Daily Record says a "rattled" David Cameron has been forced to make a "no ifs, no buts" commitment to more powers for Scotland.

    The Scotsman says the leaders of the three main UK parties are at odds over the delivery of further devolution.

    Read our newspaper round-up here.

    Text 80295 07:58: Referendum - Your Views

    Martin, Glasgow: I don't think a single person in Scotland wants the West Lothian Question to remain. We understand fairness. Why, then, is fixing it supposedly the reason for the collapse of the great Scottish bribe off?

    Lorna, Glasgow: These tax proposals are exactly what Better Together objected to for independence: cross border, tax etc. We should have had more info on this before the referendum.

    Anon: Nicola Sturgeon for first minister... mon the Irn Bru Lady.

    07:53: PM has 'muddied the waters'

    David Cameron has "muddied the waters" on devolved powers in the wake of Scotland's referendum vote, according to a Labour MP.

    Graham Allen, the MP for Nottingham North and chairman of the House of Commons political and constitutional reform committee, said the prime minister should deal with devolution for England separately.

    Labour MP Graham Allen

    "Promises were made by all the union parties; they have to be honoured and they will be honoured," Mr Allen told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme.

    "What's confusing people is the prime minister, threw in on Friday morning, that he wanted to look at English MPs and English votes.

    "I think that's muddied the waters and everyone would be happier if those issues were dealt with separately.

    "That won't compromise any promises that were made by those parties last week before the [referendum] vote took place.

    "There is a separate issue, which is very important, which is Scotland, through their fantastic democratic adventure of the referendum, has raised devolution for everyone else in the union.

    "Really, we just need to be honest about this. We're going to have, at some point, a federal parliament and system in the UK."

    Text 80295 07:40: Referendum - Get Involved

    Anon: UK parties letting Scotland down already; we've had broken promises before. Will we ever learn?

    07:34: Salmond claims voters were 'tricked'

    "No" voters in last week's independence referendum were "tricked" by a late vow of more devolved powers, according to Alex Salmond.

    Salmond, who is stepping down as Scotland's first minister, accused the three UK party leaders of "reneging" on the pledge they made days before Thursday's referendum which he claimed won the "No" vote.

    Alex Salmond

    No 10 dismissed his claims, as the three parties continue to disagree over handling the process of devolution.

    Voters in Scotland rejected independence by 55% to 45%.

    haveyoursay@bbc.co.uk 07:25: Referendum - Your Views

    John Mason, Falkirk: Surely the big problem for the Tories is convincing their back-benchers that nothing is being given away to Scotland under increased powers, without letting the cat out the bag to those poor Scottish voters who misguidedly switched? While it's proposed the Barnett Formula remains, alas all new tax-raising powers are deducted from it. Hence, 'devo max' only works for Scotland if the new tax-raising powers exceed the Barnett block grant, and that's not likely to happen! Yes, Mr Brown, you can fool most of the people most of the time, you just did it!

    Ian: How dare you Alex! The people have spoken - let us do what we as a people and nation have done so well! Keep the heid, respect the democratic process and, aye, be humble. We helped create the modern world that way.

    07:18: West Lothian Question David Porter Westminster correspondent

    Here in Manchester [Labour Party conference] there's a palpable sense of relief at the result of the referendum vote. Most delegates enthusiastically back the idea of more powers for Scotland but many, particularly from Labour's English heartlands, want further devolution for their areas too.

    A growing number also believe that the West Lothian Question, concerning the voting rights and responsibilities of Scottish MPs, also needs to be looked at.

    The conference will get the chance to make its feelings about Scotland known this afternoon when the Scottish leaders address delegates in their formal report on Scotland.

    The shadow Scottish secretary Margaret Curran will say that the Labour Party must reach out to people who voted Yes across Scotland last week and assure them that real change is coming.

    Text 80295 07:10: Referendum - Get Involved

    Anon: Surely English people have some entitlement too? I feel Scots MPs should be banned from voting on English-only issues. In return, then Scotland will get some more powers. Let's hope the Scots don't feel that somehow they're more worthy then all others, they're not.

    07:04: Commons voting rights limited?

    David Cameron is hosting a summit of senior Conservative MPs at Chequers to discuss plans to limit the Commons voting rights of Scottish MPs.

    The prime minister has said a pledge to give Scotland more powers should go hand in hand with changing the role of Scottish politicians at Westminster.

    Alex Salmond (left) and David Cameron

    However, Labour leader Ed Miliband is opposed to linking the two issues.

    The three main parties pledged more devolution during the campaign to encourage Scots to reject independence.

    07:01: Labour 'reaches out' to 'Yes' voters

    Labour aims to reach out to supporters who voted for independence in last week's referendum.

    Shadow Scottish Secretary Margaret Curran said senior party figures would meet Labour voters who backed independence in last week's referendum.

    Three of the four local authorities where a majority of people voted "Yes" were Labour-controlled.

    And the SNP, Scottish Greens and Scottish Socialist Party say they have recruited many former Labour members.

    07:00: Thomas McGuigan BBC Scotland News

    Good morning and welcome to today's live page coverage of the latest post-referendum news and analysis.



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