Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Whisky Byproducts Make Powerful Biofuel

Whisky Byproducts Make Powerful Biofuel
  • In creating a new biofuel, several Scottish scientists are turning to their country's favorite beverage: whisky. The new fuel, which uses whisky byproducts, can be used in normal car engines alone or with a mix of gasoline.
  • In creating a new biofuel, several Scottish scientists are turning to their country's favorite beverage: whisky. The new fuel, which uses whisky byproducts, can be used in normal car engines alone or with a mix of gasoline.

    A team of scientists at Edinburgh Napier University in Scotland has invented a new type of powerful biofuel made from an unlikely substance: whisky.

    Setting out to find new sources of biobutanol—a new kind of fuel 30 percent more powerful than ethanol—the scientists looked to whisky. The potential market for a whisky fuel is huge: Worldwide, the production of the popular liquor makes up a $5 billion industry.

    The new biofuel uses the two main byproducts of whisky production, pot ale and draff. Pot ale is the fermented liquid left over in the stills. Usually thrown out, the pot ale is sometimes used to feed livestock. Draff, also used as animal feed, is the grain residue. Each year, the malt whisky industry produces massive quantities of these byproducts: 1,600 million liters of pot ale and nearly 200,000 tons of draff.

    The lead researcher on the project is Professor Martin Tangney, director of the Biofuel Research Centre at Edinburgh Napier University. "The EU has declared that biofuels should account for 10% of total fuel sales by 2020," he said in statement. "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 byproducts 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."

    An especially exciting aspect of the whisky biofuel is that it can be used in a car's current engine by itself or mixed with other fuels.

    Martin Tangney is the lead researcher behind the Edinburgh Napier University project to make biofuel from whisky byproducts (source: Reuters).

    Just mixing a small percentage of the biofuel into normal gasoline could have a positive environmental impact.

    "Five or 10 percent [of biofuel] means less oil, which would make a big, big difference," Tangney said.

    Butanol fermentation, the method by which the biofuel is created, was pioneered by Chaim Weizmann, the World War II refugee who became the first president of Israel. The technology was originally used to produce rubber synthetically.

    In a statement, Jim Mather, the Scottish Minister for Enterprise, Energy, and Tourism, sounded enthusiastic about the project. "I support the development and use of sustainable biofuels," he said. "This innovative use of waste products demonstrates a new sustainable option for the biofuel industry, while also supporting the economic and environmental objectives of the Scottish Government's new Zero Waste Plan. In these challenging economic times we need to play to our strengths and take advantage of the low carbon opportunities of the future. It's exactly this type of innovation that will help sustain economic recovery and deliver future sustainable economic growth."

    Whisky isn't the only alcohol that's undergoing a green makeover. Recently at Smarter Tech, we explored how beer companies are working to use less water in making their products.


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