Social Innovation: Transport Fuelled by Whisky

Imagine driving your car fuelled from the by-products of whisky—? Well, a social innovation memorandum of understanding has just been signed to turn the waste from a Scottish distillery into fuel for cars. The Tullibardine distillery has collaborated with a company called Celtic Renewables, from Napier University in Edinburgh, Scotland where they plan to use bacteria to feed on the ‘leftovers’ from the whisky making process. This will produce butanol which can be used to fuel vehicles. The global biofuel market is currently dominated by bioethanol and biodiesel, but a new superior fuel – butanol – is poised to enter the market. Butanol has been shown to work in vehicles designed for use with gasoline without modification and can be produced from biomass as well as fossil fuels. The production of butanol through biological means was first performed by Louis Pasteur in 1861.

Celtic Renewables Ltd is an innovative, award winning Start-up Company, which has been created to commercialise a process for producing a superior next generation biofuel and other high-value sustainable products. While, Tullibardine is to become the first whisky distillery in the world to have its by-products converted into advanced biofuel, capable of powering vehicles fuelled by petrol or diesel.

Interestingly, more than 90% of the substance that comes out of a whisky distillery is not whisky! Its leftovers such as pot ale are produced in the early stages of the process and are high in sugar; it is currently used for things like fertiliser and cattle feed. However, Napier University's Biofuel Research Centre has shown that the right bacteria can feed on these by-products to produce butanol, which can be a social innovation replacement for vehicle fuel.

Together, the Tullbardine distillery and Celtic Renewables will apply this process to thousands of tonnes of the distillery's leftovers. Professor Martin Tangney, founder of Celtic Renewables says, "Our partnership with Tullibardine is an important step in the development of a business which combines two iconic Scottish industries, whisky and renewables.” This social innovation initiative demonstrates that existing technologies can utilise resources on our doorstep to benefit both the environment and the economy. Tullibardine currently spends £250,000 disposing of its by-products every year.

The project is supported by the Scottish Government which believes it can contribute to the Scotland’s target of reducing carbon emissions by 42% by 2020, as well as contributing to the E.U. mandated biofuel target of 10% by 2020. The project is also being supported by a grant from the Scottish Government's Zero Waste Scotland initiative. Celtic Renewables eventually wants to build a processing plant in Scotland, with the hope of building an industry that could be worth £60m a year. This is a social innovation venture, with obvious environmental benefits with strong social as well as commercial value.

Photo Credit: Celtic Renewables Ltd website