Irish researcher scotches suggestion that whisky has only one use

It may astonish lovers of uisce beatha, but an Irish researcher has devised an alternative use for the hard stuff that promises to revolutionise our fuel use — biofuel.

Macroom man Martin Tangney a professor of biochemistry at Edinburgh Napier University, has found that the by-products of whisky production, draff and pot ale, can be harnessed before being converted into energy. Famed for Glemorangie and Glenfiddich, Scotland has a vast lake of these whisky (Irish: whiskey) by-products.

Professor Tangney has been carrying out research in the area of biofuels for a number of years and yesterday launched a new company to develop the newly patented product.

The UCC graduate has published in leading scientific journals and is an inventor of numerous patents. He has also been working closely with Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond in developing Scotland’s energy policy.

In 2007, he established at Edinburgh Napier University Britain’s first research centre dedicated to the development of sustainable biofuel — the Biofuel Research Centre. The move has ultimately led to the launch of Celtic Renewables Ltd.

Tangney explains how the process works. “The process we developed can convert the by-products of whisky production [pot ale, the liquid from the copper stills, and draff, the spent grains] into sustainable biofuel — no need for engine modification and no drop off in performance.”

The venture is a spinout company from the university’s biofuel research centre and will initially focus on Scotland’s €4.8bn malt whisky industry to develop a next-generation biofuel known as bio-butanol, and other renewable chemicals.

Researchers claim the process has huge global potential. Unlike other biofuels, bio-butanol can be used as a direct replacement for petrol, or as a blend, without the need for engine modification.

Celtic Renewables is working with Scottish Enterprise to produce the fuel on an industrial scale. Each year the industry produces 1,600 million litres of pot ale and 500,000 tonnes of draff. This formerly waste material is being developed as the huge resource it is.

“The Scottish malt whisky industry is a ripe resource for developing bio-butanol. The pot ale and draff could be converted into biofuel as a direct substitute for fossil-derived fuel, which would reduce oil consumption and C02 emissions while also providing energy security — particularly in the rural and remote homelands of the whisky industry,” said Professor Tangney.

He added: “The launch of Celtic Renewables is a very exciting development and there is huge potential for applying our process on a global scale.”

The initial research project received €320,000 of support from Scottish Enterprise’s Proof of Concept Programme, while Celtic Renewables has since benefited from an €84,000 Scottish Enterprise grant.

While the project has Scottish backing, Prof Tangney says he would like to see the industry developed here.

“We can tie into large distilleries in Ireland and provide local employment,” he says.

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