Diageo’s Whisky Distillery is Set to Become Carbon Neutral

Diageo’s whisky distillery is joining a growing number of businesses that are serious about reducing their carbon emissions. Distilleries historically require large heat loads to turn grain into one of mankind’s oldest vices, alcohol. But Diageo’s new 72,000 square foot distillery is going electric and being designed to be completely carbon neutral.

By switching to renewable electricity rather than using a traditional natural gas facility, Diageo says it should be able to avoid producing more than 117,000 metric tons of annual carbon emissions.

Andrew Jarrick, North American environmental sustainability manager at Diageo said:

“This is an opportunity to build a new distillery from the ground up. It’s not every day you get that opportunity.” 

According to Diageo, the Kentucky facility is set to be one of the largest carbon neutral distilleries in North America. The facility is currently being built with completion expected by mid-202. The firm says that it will ultimately produce 10 million proof gallons of whisky primarily Bulleit whiskey and employ about 30 full-time brewers.

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There are three large heat requirements involved in the distilling process: first to cook the grain into mash; then as steam to capture the ethanol in what’s known as a distillation column; and finally, for drying the leftover grain for other uses.

The first step and the biggest hurdle to jump for Diageo was moving away from using fossil fuels for this heat production.

Andrew Jarrick said:

“The distillery industry is built on very traditional ways of thinking and relies very heavily on time-tested methodologies. We want to produce the same liquid every time. The biggest challenge was to maintain that process integrity, but also move on from traditional fossil fuels.”

The facility will no longer use traditional equipment but instead 22-foot tall high voltage jet electrode boilers from Precision Boilers, a company based in the US, will take its place. Electric boilers have the advantage of needing less maintenance but most importantly, by not using fossil fuels less greenhouse gases are emitted. Gabriel Dauphin, vice president of sales and marketing at Precision Boilers, explained to Greenbiz via email that the boilers use conductive and resistive properties to carry an electric current and generate steam. 

Gabriel Dauphin also explained that fossil fuel burners have to reach a certain minimum energy output before turning off whereas electric boilers can be turned down to any level before closing down completely as well as being able to reach the desired heat level almost straight away. For this reason, he said that boilers are much more accurate and almost 100% efficient with the benefit of zero emissions.

Once Andrew Jarrick and his team had decided to make the bold move to electric boilers they chose to electrify as much as possible in the operation. No stone was left unturned in their quest to reduce their carbon footprint. All lighting in the facility will use LEDs, all vehicles on the property will be electric and the atmospheric heat systems put in place for the comfort of employees are likely to use electricity rather than a fossil fuel source. Further to that the company is also installing occupancy sensors, lower ceilings, and exterior solar panels to help increase energy efficiency.

The plan is for Diageo to get 100% of its electricity needs for the site from renewable sources through partnerships with East Kentucky Power Cooperative and Inter-County Energy. These companies are aiming to provide a combination of solar and wind energy to power the distillery.

Carrying on with its carbon neutral promise the facility proposes to also be zero waste to landfill by distributing the dry leftover grain to organisations that can use it for animal feed.

Electric boilers were the most important factor for getting this project to carbon neutral. If Diageo is to deliver on its commitment to net zero carbon emissions, it will need to go electric across all of its operations and source 100% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

Diageo is not the only distillery aiming to be carbon neutral at this time. Scotland’s first carbon neutral whisky distillery is under construction in Huntly, Aberdeenshire. In this case the whisky distillery will be powered by burning wood chips which will help to reduce their carbon emissions.

Chivas, the French owned company that produces whisky has selected Glentauchers, on Speyside, to lead the way in going 100% green friendly. Glentauchers is just off the A95 between Keith and Aberlour in Scotland. The aim is for the site to be 90% carbon-neutral within the next 18 months with Chivas switching an investment in heating power for the site to biofuels.

Chivas is looking to reduce greenhouse gases and emissions by a further 20% over the next two years. The company claims to have already cut them by one third over the past decade. Further to this the firm’s new Good Times from a Good Place plan also includes a commitment to cut its carbon emissions by 50% and increase its positive impact on the environment by 2030.

Chivas has also said it would also make sure every packaging component was 100% sustainably sourced by 2022.

The whisky industry continues to undergo an energy revolution. Distilleries are preparing for the impact of climate change and dealing with the many challenges that their industry has to face in order to become carbon neutral.