An Irish scientist’s start-up company has landed an £11m (€15.12m) grant from the UK government to resurrect a wartime process used at the beginning of the last century, and lead the charge in reducing transport’s carbon footprint.
Biofuel company Celtic Renewables headed by Cork native Professor Martin Tangney was the biggest winner in a competition run by the Westminster Department for Transport which saw it gain the largest share of a £25m funding pot.
The money will help the Edinburgh-based company build the world’s first plant dedicated to turning whiskey by-products into advanced biofuels that can be used to fuel cars.
The company hopes the facility will be operational by December 2018, producing at least one million litres of biofuel every year.
The process uses bacterial fermentation to produce advanced biofuels from carbohydrates like starch and glucose. It was originally devised in the UK at the start of the last century as part of the British effort during the First World War to produce acetone for explosives but was subsequently phased out in the 1960s due to competition from the petrochemical industry.
“Our aim is to reintroduce that process but in a modern context which allows us to use the leftovers from the whiskey industry to create a fuel source that contributes to the low-carbon future we all want,” said Prof Tangney.
“We are committed to developing a new industry right here in the UK that will be worth more than £100m a year and it starts here.
“We have already attracted investment and partners in the private sector and this funding will allow us to scale-up to industrial production.
“Our next step is to open a demonstration facility and we are targeting a location in or near Grangemouth which is an area that’s strategically right for us,” said the UCC microbiology graduate.
The company founded by Prof Tangney as a spinout from the Biofuel Research Centre at Edinburgh Napier University was earlier this year named Europe’s most innovative bio-tech SME.
This week’s funding announcement was made by UK Transport Minister Andrew Jones at Celtic Renewables university headquarters.
“I am delighted to announce Celtic Renewables is one of three winners of the Department of Transport’s Advanced Biofuels Demonstration competition.
“The point of the competition was to reward companies that take low-value waste and use their intellectual property to create something of high value which also contributes to low-carbon development, manufacturing and science,” Mr Jones said.
“There is no better demonstration of this than Celtic Renewables’ great ideas and this money will help them to put those into practice.
“It’s a fantastic story that fits perfectly with our aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and decarbonising transport,” he said.
The other companies which won funding in the competition are Teesside-based Nova Pangaea, which produces biofuel from forestry waste, and Swindon-based Advanced Plasma Products.
Biofuel is produced from draff from the sugar-rich kernels of barley which are soaked in water to facilitate the fermentation process necessary for whisky production, and pot ale, the yeasty liquid that is left over following distillation.
Each year, the Scottish whiskey industry produces 1,600m litres of pot ale and 500,000 tonnes of draff.