Drink driving? How whisky could be the fuel of the future

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Drink driving? How whisky could be the fuel of the future


Look at any new car these days and it’s clear the painstaking degree of attention engineers put into reducing CO2 emissions through new innovations and technology. We can all do our bit for the environment, and opting for a low-emitting new or used car from Johnsons Cars can reduce your road tax liability, fuel bills and Benefit-in-Kind obligations.

But what about the billions of people around the globe who already own a car and want to reduce their carbon footprint, but can’t afford to invest in a newer model?

Scotland leading the way

Luckily, scientists around the world are constantly looking for new ways of powering existing cars through chemistry. Coffee helps many of us get going in the morning, and discarded coffee grounds are just one of the things they are currently looking at to get your car going too.

In Scotland, a team of chemists – Celtic Renewables – is looking at how to transform by-products from whisky production into a biofuel. Scotland is the perfect place to conduct this experiment, as it is the world’s largest producer of whisky.

Around 90 percent of each distillery’s output is waste pot ale (the liquor remaining in the still) and draff (spent barley), and Celtic Renewables is hoping to turn some of this into biobutanol. Combined, Scottish distilleries produce over 1.6 billion litres of pot ale and 750,000 tonnes of draff annually – some of which ends up as animal feed, and the rest is pumped into the ocean – so there’s no shortage of spare ‘raw materials’ available.

What’s the plan?

Celtic Renewables’s aim is to substitute up to 16 percent of the petrol in every tank with biobutanol – which, of course, will come pre-mixed with your fuel from the pumps. You should get the same performance and economy as before, without needing any modifications to your car or its engine. But the difference from an environmental perspective is absolutely huge.

Biobutanol burns more cleanly than petrol, so every litre of petrol substituted with biobutanol reduces CO2 output by over 2.3kg. And that’s before you take into account the effect of whisky industry waste going to good use, rather than being pumped into the oceans.

Celtic Renewables is planning to build a new plant near Falkirk where it can begin mass-production of biobutanol. If successful, it’s easy to imagine similar firms springing up around the world in other places that produce whisky – Ireland, Canada and Japan in particular – to help reduce their impact on the environment.

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