Edinburgh Napier spinout behind revolutionary process

Date posted

7 July 2017


Last updated

19 March 2020

An Edinburgh Napier spinout has driven the first car to be fuelled solely by a whisky residue biofuel.

Working closely with Tullibardine Distillery in Perthshire, Celtic Renewables has developed a ground-breaking process that is set to revolutionise sustainable transport.

Using a biofuel called biobutanol which is made from draff – the sugar-rich kernels of barley which are soaked in water to facilitate the fermentation process necessary for whisky production – and pot ale – the copper-containing yeasty liquid that is left over following distillation – the team at Celtic Renewables has devised that the biofuel can be used as a direct replacement for road fuel, with no engine modification required.

The team has showcased the potential of biobutanol by driving a Ford Focus car around the grounds of Edinburgh Napier’s Craiglockhart campus – powered solely by the biofuel.

Each year in Scotland, the Malt Whisky industry produces almost 750,000 tonnes of draff and two billion litres of pot ale which Celtic Renewables plans to use by converting them into millions of litres of advanced biofuel.

Professor Martin Tangney, the company’s founder and president, said: “This is the first time in history that a car has ever been driven with a biofuel produced from whisky production residues. It is fitting to do this historic drive in Scotland, which is famous not just for its world-renowned whisky but also for being a powerhouse for renewable energy.

“Celtic Renewables is playing its part in sustainability by taking this initiative from a research project at Edinburgh Napier to, what we believe will be, a multi-billion-pound global business with the opportunity to turn transport green.”
The power of whisky
The Celtic Renewables process, that uses bacterial fermentation to produce biobutanol, was originally devised in the UK at the start of the last century to produce acetone for explosives used in the First World War. It was phased-out in the 1960s due to competition from the petrochemical industry, but now Celtic Renewables is bringing it back to life by applying it to the residues of the whisky industry.

Tullibardine distillery manager John Torrance added: “Right from the outset when Celtic Renewables approached us, we could see the game-changing potential of a new fuel created from our by-products.

“We’re a forward thinking distillery and we’re happy to support what promises to be a ground-breaking first for renewable energy, for transport and for the Scottish whisky industry alike.”

Celtic Renewables is an innovative and award-winning start-up company formed to commercialise a process for producing a superior next generation biofuel from the by-products of biological industries.

The Biofuel Research Centre was established by Professor Martin Tangney at Edinburgh Napier University in December 2007. It was the first such centre of its kinds, set-up for developing sustainable biofuels.
Learn more about Celtic Renewables...