How whiskey waste can replace fossil fuels on the road to net zero

As Glasgow welcomes world leaders to the UN climate summit, COP26, the founder of a Scottish biotech company calls for action, not goals.

Professor Martin Tangney’s company, Celtic Renewables, turns whiskey-making waste into the type of everyday chemicals that are normally made in oil refineries, without drilling for fossil fuels. This includes a new gasoline alternative that directly replaces the gasoline that powers most traditional cars.

“This has to be the COP where we stop talking about why we need to fight climate change and telling everyone how; how we do it, how we pay for it, how is it going to be. A roadmap. A strategy. This is not a goal setting exercise, ”Tangney, founder and chairman of Celtic Renewables, told Reuters at the company’s demonstration plant in Grangemouth, near Edinburgh.

Whiskey is made from barley, yeast, and water and leaves behind spent barley grains, called spent grains, and sweetened water called pot ale.

The waste is often disposed of as animal feed or even pumped into the sea. Recently, scotch whiskey maker Glenfiddich announced that it is processing its waste to produce methane which is then used to fuel its specially adapted delivery trucks.

Celtic Renewables claims their product is a direct replacement fuel for an unmodified standard gasoline engine.

“We can take residues from industries such as the whiskey industry and convert them into high-value products, namely butanol, which is currently being used to power this car,” Tangney said as he passed through the Campsie Fells, at the north of Glasgow, after filling the car’s tank with their biofuel.

The waste conversion process, known as ABE fermentation, produces acetone, butanol and ethanol, chemicals that are used daily in everything from fuel and food production to medicine. and cosmetics. Chemicals that could be used long into the future, provided they are produced in a sustainable manner, according to Tangney.

“Our point of view is not to tell everyone all the things you can’t do. It’s showing people how we can innovate to do them differently, ”he said.

ABE fermentation was at one time a huge global industry but was eventually shut down due to competition from petrochemicals and the cost of raw materials, an issue Celtic Renewables says it solved with its patented process that relies on organic waste. rather than high added value crops.

“This is made from living carbon. This is basically a residue of an industry which is one of the most important industries in the Scottish economy and we can take their residue and turn it into something we need right now from resources sustainable, ”Tangney said.

The Grangemouth demonstration plant can produce 1 million liters of sustainable and advanced biochemicals from 50,000 tonnes of spent grain and pot ale and other raw materials such as potatoes, or almost any organic waste.

The company now plans to build 5 large-scale refineries around the world over the next 5 years and calls on governments and investors to support them.

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