Cork scientist developing fuel from whiskey production dregs

One person’s waste is another person’s gold. A saying that could crystallise the philosophy of an Irish scientist who is making a name for himself internationally in the field of alternative transport fuels, writes Donal Hickey.

Cork scientist developing fuel from whiskey production dregs

One person’s waste is another person’s gold. A saying that could crystallise the philosophy of an Irish scientist who is making a name for himself internationally in the field of alternative transport fuels, writes Donal Hickey.

The fast-growing Irish whiskey production industry is keeping an eye on what a UCC microbiology graduate is doing with waste from the distillation process, in the UK.

Martin Tangney, a native of Macroom, Co Cork, was recently awarded a British honour for his groundbreaking work in Scotland.

He has been developing a biofuel from the dregs of whiskey production to power motor vehicles, proving that drink and driving are not always incompatible.

With much of the focus now on electric cars, there’s a danger that the potential of biofuel — a gas liquid or solid substance made from natural sources, such as plants — could be overlooked as a renewable fuel.

The legendary Henry Ford saw that potential, long ago, that Prof Tangney, of Edinburgh’s Napier University, now sees huge potential for biofuel.

His company, Celtic Renewables, is going ahead with the building of a plant in Grangemouth which will produce a half-million litres of the fuel, biobutanol, annually.

It is believed to be the first plant of its kind in the world using entirely sustainable raw materials.

Like many good ideas it seems simple enough — using raw waste materials from Scotland’s biggest industry without the need for additional crop production.

Clean, renewable fuel is being made from the waste of barley grains (draff) and pot ale, a copper-laced liquid.

The fuel can replace petrol, or diesel. Last year, Prof Tangney proved a car can be powered by this fuel.

Henry Ford’s estimable Model T car was run on biofuel, he says. The Irish whiskey industry, meanwhile, is growing apace.

Several distilleries have opened here in recent years. In four years, the number rose four to 18, with 16 more planned.

A downside is that it is an energy-intensive industry and less than 10% of all products that go into making uisce beatha actually end up in the bottle.

It costs money to dispose of all the waste from the process, much of which is used for fertiliser and animal feed.

The Tangney biofuel has been adapted from a system used more than a century ago in Britain to produce material for explosives used in the First World War, but it was phased out in the 1960s due to competition from the petrol industry.

Meanwhile, the EU has a lot of work to do if it is to meet its target of renewable sources accounting for 10% of all transport energy by 2020.

At present, only 6% of transport fuel comes from renewables.

Patrick Kent, of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association, has called on the EU to encourage farmers to grow crops for biofuel production.

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