A Scottish energy start-up commercialises a process for producing a superior next generation biofuel (and other high value sustainable products) from the by-products of biological industries. The company – Celtic Renewables is its name – is initially focused on the £4 billion Scottish Malt Whisky industry as a ripe resource for developing bio-butanol – a next generation biofuel. Biobutanol has 25% more energy per unit volume than bioethanol; it has a lower vapour pressure and higher flashpoint (making it easier to store and safer to handle); it can be blended without requiring modifications in blending facilities, storage tanks or retail station pumps; in sharp contrast to ethanol, it can run in unmodified engines at any blend with petrol and may also be blended with diesel and biodiesel; it is less corrosive than bioethanol and can be transported using existing infrastructures. Biobutanol was legally recognised as a biofuel by incorporation in the 2009 amendment to the Road Transport Fuel Obligation (the UK implementation of the EU Renewable Energy Directive, which dictates that 5% of the UK’s transport fuel comes from a renewable source by 2013, and 10% by 2020).
Celtic Renewables Ltd are innovatively re-developing a defunct fermentation technology – already proven on a global scale – to combine the two main by-products of the whisky production, namely “pot ale” (the copper-containing liquid from the stills) and “draff” (the used barley grains), to produce high value renewable products, including biobutanol. The whisky industry annually produces 1,600 million litres of pot ale and 500,000 tonnes of draff which could be converted into biofuel as a direct substitute for fossil-derived fuel, thereby reducing oil consumption and CO2 emissions, while also providing energy security – particularly in remote/rural areas where the whisky industry is prevalent. The Celtic Renewables Ltd production process also produces other sustainable chemicals, acetone and ethanol, as well as high grade sustainable animal feed.
The innovative technology was developed by the Biofuel Research Centre at Edinburgh Napier University by Professor Martin Tangney and his team. The research was completed in 2010, and was launched to the world’s media, and received global coverage.
The re-introduction of the once dominant butanol fermentation in a modern biotechnology context using alternative substrates by Celtic Renewables Ltd is an exciting development with huge potential for international application with related substrates. The company has been adopted as a client by the Scottish Enterprise High Growth Start-up Unit, who recognise this as an SME with potential for an industry of scale. The company also carries the support of the Scottish Whisky Association and the Government, where this process is well aligned to both national biofuel and carbon reduction targets.
Currently, Celtic Renewables is about halfway through a pilot demonstration that began last fall at the Center for Process Innovation in Teesside, England, with the goal of producing 10,000 liters (2,641 gallons) of biobutanol. The process will also produce two other commercial products: bioacetone, which is used in paints and plastics; and solid waste that can be sold as high-grade animal feed.