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Whiskey is for Making Biofuels?

whiskeyScottish startup Celtic Renewables says it can turn waste from the country’s £4 billion ($6 billion) whiskey-making industry into millions of gallons of renewable fuel, creating a £60 million ($90 million) biofuels industry, National Geographic reports.

Only 10 percent of a distillery’s product is future whiskey, the magazine says. The other 90 percent is daft, the residue of the grains of barley; and pot ale, a copper-laden liquid.

Disposing of this waste cuts into manufacturers’ profits. Tullibardine, a distillery located about 50 miles away from Celtic Renewable’s Edinburgh headquarters, produces about 2 million liters (528,344 gallons) of pot ale and 6,500 metric tons of draff annually, National Geographic says. Disposing of it costs the company £250,000 ($375,000) a year.

The distillery has started supplying Celtic Renewables with feedstock for a pilot project that will turn the organic matter into industrial alcohols including biobutanol, a biofuel. The process is called ABE (for acetone-butanol-ethanol) and it uses the bacterium Clostridium acetobutylicum.

In other biofuel news, MIT chemical engineers say they have found a cheaper way to synthesize a key biofuel component, which could make its industrial production more cost-effective.

The compound — gamma-valerolactone (GVL) — has more energy than ethanol and could be used on its own or as an additive to other fuels, researchers say. GVL could also be useful as a “green” solvent or a building block for creating renewable polymers from sustainable materials.

The traditional process for converting plant material to GVL requires catalysts made from precious metals and must be done at very high pressures of hydrogen gas, which makes the process cost-prohibitive. The new MIT production method, described in the journal Angewandte Chemie, eliminates both of those obstacles.

Last year global biofuels output fell for the first time since 2000 due to weakness in the US, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2013 published last week.

Photo Credit: Andreas Marx via Flickr


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