Education About Gas

Whiskey brings a shot of energy

 By Michelle Leslie
About gas

It’s a main driver of Scotland’s food and beverage exports and it’s found in a shot glass. In fact, almost one-hundred million cases of famous Scottish whisky circles the globe every year. Around the world, over twenty counties are in the whisky business, including over 80 distilleries in Scotland, providing a tremendous amount of bioenergy potential in one of the world’s best known beverages…

Barley, water and yeast are the main ingredients required to make whisky, and for hundreds of years the recipe and the method to brew this beverage have remained the same. What has changed is what powers distilleries. Once heavily reliant on fossil fuels, whisky grains are helping businesses run on bioenergy. This sustainable step forward will help Scotland to stay on track to meet aggressive energy targets of 100 percent renewable electricity within the next three years. The Scottish Whisky Association has set its own, equally aggressive environmental targets. “By 2020, 20 percent of the industry’s energy should come from non-fossil fuel sources, rising to 80 percent by 2050.” The industry’s commitment to the environment was highlighted in 2009 with the launch of an environmental strategy. A first of its kind, the ambitious plan has focused on economic sustainability and the organization has already seen results. As of 2014, close to 20 percent of the energy used by the industry came from renewable resources and only 2 percent of waste wound up in landfills.

Mashing ingrediants during whiskey production

In order to brew more sustainable malts, whisky maker Diego opened up a bioenergy plant. The Roseisle distillery is “the first malt whisky distillery to generate significant renewable energy from its co-products making its environmental impact significantly lower than a distillery of an equivalent size. Overall (half) of the distillery’s energy consumption is made up from renewable sources generated in the on-site bioenergy plant.” Swapping out fossil fuels for bioenergy has helped the company drastically cut carbon emissions by over 10,000 metric tons per year. Diageo is just one of many distilleries exploring more sustainable brewing techniques. The Three Stills Company announced earlier this year that it too would be going waste-free, processing all of the left over liquid from its production as the company made a move to biogas.

Whisky makers aren’t alone in their quest to reduce emissions in alcohol production. Even Mexico, a country known for fine tequila, is greening its supply chain through investments in biogas. Installing a biogas boiler has seen a drastic reduction in emissions for the Cazadores distillery. Replacing oil with biogas has cut emissions by 80 percent and they aren’t stopping there. As stated in a company release, ” the greening (goes beyond energy) as the ashes created within the boiler are (then) used for composting, transforming the ashes into a nutrient-rich soil supplement.” One of the more innovative approaches to waste is in Edinburgh where The North British Distillery is selling would-be waste. The first concept of its kind, the distillery has found a way to capture and contain the carbon dioxide produced in the distilling process. CO2 is produced, captured and liquefied through a combination of high pressures and low temperatures. Once the gas is liquified, it can then be stored in large tanks and used in various industries including carbonating beverages.

North British Distillery sign

The diversified potential of whisky goes well beyond the vat and one day the world’s most favourite malts could be advancing the field of transportation. Celtic Renewables, a company based out of Edinburgh Napier University is looking to produce biofuels from whisky byproducts. According to a Tedx Talk by founder, Professor Martin Tangney, most of what flows out of a distillery doesn’t end up in the glass. Through a bacterial fermentation process that uses these leftover products, scientists are looking to create biobutanol. This advanced biofuel can work in passenger vehicles and serve as an alternative for traditional jet fuel.

It’s an important step forward. The International Energy Agency has reported that the number of transport vehicles has doubled in the last 30 years, and they predict that road travel will further double by 2050, with light passenger vehicles accounting for most of the growth. The report highlights the importance of low-emitting or zero-emitting fuels to meet demand, bring down carbon emissions and at the same time provide countries with energy security. An innovative step forward in sustainability, cutting carbon emissions and reducing waste. This approach to distilling is also helping Scotland stay on track to meet its renewable targets while giving whisky drinkers a greener option in every glass.

SEE MORE: Great things from small things by Robin Wylie

about the author
Michelle Leslie
Alberta, Toronto and now Ottawa. Meteorologist, Journalist & Munk School Of Global Affairs Fellow.