As It Happens

Company produces world's first biofuel made from whisky waste

A company develops a fuel made from a whisky byproduct that you can pour straight into your car.
Martin Tangney, founder of Celtic Renewables, shows the first sample of bio-butanol. (Photo: Courtesy of Martin Tangney)

Drinking and driving is a big problem. Unless you're talking about the completely different relationship between drinking and driving that Martin Tangney and his company have seized upon. This one could represent a big solution. Tangney’s company, Celtic Renewables, has devised a way to create fuel using the bio-waste from whisky production. The bio-butanol can fuel your car as efficiently as gas, with no need for engine modification.

“This whole concept was born out of a notion I had one day as a professor at university,” Tangney tells As it Happens host Carol Off. “We tried it with Highland whiskies, Lowland whiskies, even triple-distilled whiskies, so that we would have a process that was generic and applicable not just to Scottish malt whisky, but to grain whisky, and to the rye whisky that you have in Canada. There are big whisky industries all over the world.”

Tangney explains that whisky accounts for less than ten percent of the output of a whisky distillery. “You take barley -- malt it, and you release some sugars. You wash out the sugar from the barley, you add some yeast and water and make beer, and then distill the alcohol out of the beer.” So the bulk of the barley is discarded at the beginning of the process, and ends up as residual waste – to the tune of 750,000 tonnes per year in Scotland alone, according to Tangney.

Celtic Renewables takes the leftover barley roughage and mixes it with the slurry left from the beer fermentation and whisky distillation, then mixes that with a combination of different fermentation organisms to make butanol.

It’s a process that was first developed during the First World War to make explosives – one that eventually died out due to the success of the petro-chemical industry. Interest in butanol as a fuel was renewed in 2005, after a scientist named David Ramey drove ten-thousand miles across the United States, in an unmodified 1992 Buick Park Avenue fuelled entirely on pure butanol.

“When we build our first demonstrator,” says Tangney, “we will invite all the whisky industries from all around the world to come and have a look at what we can do, and hopefully export that technology around the world.”


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