Is Making Biofuel from Whiskey Dregs Worth It?

The renewables industry has seen its fair share of innovations over the last few years as we try to make the world a cleaner place, reduce the cost of energy and combat climate change. Biofuel has always been one of those areas that produce some of the more off-the-wall solutions as we try to find alternatives for one of the biggest and most widely used fossil fuels, oil.

What are Biofuels?

Biofuels are seen as the green alternative for petrol, diesel and aircraft fuel. Their creation involves taking the natural oil from plant material such as corn or sugar cane to produce a bio diesel by careful refining. In the past, the problem has been slow, and expensive processes which meant companies like car manufacturers have veered away from creating the technology for vehicles to run on biofuels.

So how can you make biofuel out of whiskey?

There’s an interesting fact about whiskey. Whilst it takes just a combination of water, grain and a bit of yeast, only 10% of the mixture goes into making Scotland’s favourite tipple. That means the rest goes to waste that has to be disposed of.

Now Celtic Renewables Ltd, a recent start up in Scotland, has found an innovative way to treat that waste and turn it into a valuable biofuel. According to Science Alert, the team at Celtic Renewables have taken an old refining technique and are using it to produce biobutanol, a more efficient fuel than bioethanol that has been used in the past by many industries.

This new process could have far reaching effects in the future. According to Science Alert: “The whisky industry annually produces 1,600 million litres of pot ale and 500,000 tonnes of draff from the distilling process, but Celtic Renewables’ current biobutanol facilities are small-scale and unable to process this much waste.”

If the company get funding to produce the biofuel on a larger scale we could see a brand new way to power our cars and trucks in the very near future. But are we as far along with developing biofuels as we would like to be?

The Future of Biofuels

Although it often takes a back seat compared to other renewable technologies such as solar and wind, biofuel development could still be a very important part of our future. An EU directive from 2009 has mandated that 10% of all transportation fuel provision needs to come from a renewable sources by the end of the decade. The industry has suffered in the past because there are many small producers of biofuel but no concerted effort being made to bring them together which could see the target of 10% difficult to reach. The other problem is that you can’t just throw biofuel into a vehicle that runs on petrol and many vehicle manufacturers have been reluctant to spend money on technologies that may or may not come to fruition.

Some large companies with transport infrastructures are, however, pushing forward with new plans. This includes delivery firm DHL and supermarket chain Sainsbury’s. One main concern is the large distances that delivery vehicles often have to travel which means a completely electric option is currently out of the question. The other option is to go for electric/fuel hybrids but again this raises issues for long distances. That’s why the companies are looking more seriously at developing fleets that run on biofuels and exploring the possibilities of mixing it in with liquefied biogas.

According to the Guardian, Sainsbury’s fleet “has 109 vehicles running on a mix of liquid biomethane from landfill sites and liquid natural gas, out of a total fleet of 1,051.” Small beginnings, maybe, but it’s a start.

Not everyone, however, is a fan of biofuels. For some they produce more carbon damaging effects than fossil fuels and also cause a drain on our own crop productions that we can ill afford with a growing population. According to research by Chatham House, it could also be more expensive for motorists if we switch to biofuels, costing us an extra £460 million a year.