Celtic Renewables, is using whisky by-products to commercialise the production of biofuel on an industrial scale…, Monday February 13 2012
Renewables, a new spin-out from Edinburgh Napier University, is
using whisky by-products to commercialise the production of biofuel
on an industrial scale. We spoke to Chief Executive Mark
What's the inspiration behind this idea?
It's the challenge of finding long-term sustainable sources of
biofuels for Scotland. The first idea to solve this problem
involves innovating a fermentation process that's been around for
100 years. This has been adapted to use the sustainable by-products
from the whisky industry: draff (the spent grains) and pot ale (the
residue left in copper stills). The whisky industry produces over
500,000 tonnes of draff a year and the pot ale presents the
industry with a large disposal cost. If we can take these low value
feedstocks and convert them into a high value products – including
biobutanol (which is a drop-in fuel) – that's a compelling
proposition which will help the company become successful and start
to tackle three significant issues: the cost of fuel, energy
security (where our fuel comes from), and reducing carbon
What's the potential?
It's difficult to quantify because it depends on the volumes of
feedstock we can secure from the whisky industry. We see particular
potential in rural communities where the cost of fuel is very high.
For example islands like Islay and other small communities in the
North of Scotland. If we can get hold of sufficient volumes of
draff and pot ale from three up to possibly a dozen distilleries,
we can create a processing plant to produce and distribute the fuel
Tell us a bit about your own background.
My first degree was in economics and accounting from Bristol
University and I then worked in commercial sales and business
development. I recently graduated from the
Saltire Foundation Fellowship Programme (a global
entrepreneurship programme backed by Scottish Enterprise and
GlobalScot). It was a
fantastic experience and the opportunity to help establish Celtic
Renewables came about through that. Our founder Professor Martin
Tangney (pictured) is a world authority in biobutanol. He advises
the Scottish Government on biofuels and founded the
Biofuel Research Centre at Edinburgh Napier University.
Why is being in Edinburgh/Scotland
Being in Edinburgh is important to us at the present time
because of the considerable amount of support we receive from
Edinburgh Napier University as one of their spin-outs. Scotland is
obviously a primary market for us, although we anticipate a global
market for the technology. Scotland is where the whisky industry is
– which is our initial focus to provide the feedstock for our
process. Also there's a real sense of joined-up government in the
renewables sector. We're getting good support from both Scottish
Enterprise and the Scottish Government, who see the potential for
both the technology and the company.