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Warm Glow: Biomass Serves Green Whiskey in Scotland

Bill DiBenedetto | Thursday September 10th, 2009 | 1 Comment

whiskey-glassLeave it to the Scots to find ways to get energy out of whiskey.

If you like your whiskey neat or even if you don’t this is pretty neat — Helius Energy Plc and the Combination of Rothes Distillers (CoRD) formed a joint venture known as Helius CoRDe, which will build and operate a biomass energy plant using whiskey distillery by-products.

The proposed £50 million ($82.7 million) project would reduce the carbon footprint of the whiskey industry on the Scottish island of Speyside.

The plant will use whiskey distillery by-products to fuel a 7.2-megawatt GreenSwitch biomass combined heat and power  plant (CHP) and a GreenFields plant that will turn the liquid co-product of whiskey production, known as Pot Ale, into a concentrated organic fertilizer and an animal feed for use by local farmers.

Helius CoRDe will be responsible for the financing, construction and operation of the new plant. The project could save more than 20,000 tons of carbon dioxide each year when compared to CoRD’s current energy use, the distillers say.

“This agreement formalizes the work we have undertaken so far and sets out the structure for us to take this project forward to completion,” says Frank Burns, CoRD general manager. “ The ability to generate renewable heat and power and secure additional markets for our distillery co-products is a very exciting development for the malt whiskey industry on Speyside.”

It’s anticipated that engineering procurement and construction contract awards will come soon, allowing plant construction to begin in early 2010. It will take about two years to complete project construction.

And there’s more recent action on the Scottish biomass horizon with word late last month that Forth Energy, a joint venture created last year between Forth Ports Plc and Scottish and Southern Energy is preparing to go ahead with the development of four dedicated biomass power stations at Forth Ports’ site in Scotland.

Plants are proposed for Dundee, Leith, Rosyth and Grangemouth. Installed capacity would total around 400 megawatts. Softwood sourced from forests in the UK and overseas would provide the main source of fuel.

Pot Ale is a high-protein co-product removed prior to final distillation of the spirit. The solid grain product removed from the mash tun prior to fermentation of the liquor is known as draff.

The GreenFields process takes the co-products from distillery operations (including process water, pot ale and draff) and turns them into “value inputs” such as biomass fuel, soil conditioner, animal feed and water for cooling and cleaning purposes.

The CHP unit will use a combination of distillery co-products and wood chips from sustainable sources to generate the 7.2 megawatts of electricity, enough for 9,000 homes, which can be used onsite or exported to the National Grid.

CoRD was founded in 1904 to process the Pot Ale produced by the whiskey distilleries in the Rothes area. It is owned by a combination of distilling companies comprising The Edrington Group, Chivas Brothers, Glen Grant Distillery Ltd, Inver House Distillers, Diageo and Benriach Distillery Co.

“Biomass will play a major role in meeting the UK’s targets for emissions reductions, and [the Helius CoRde venture] is a model that has the potential to be rolled-out elsewhere. Drinking green whisky may give you a warm glow but it’ll also help to avoid warming the planet,” says John Seed, managing director of Helius Energy.

So have another one, you might be doing your part to help save the planet; at least it’s a good excuse.


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  • Peter Rose

    Two factual errors:
    1. Whiskey is Irish (e.g.Jameson) Scotch, the drink, is spelt whisky.
    2. Speyside means what it says; at the side of the (river) Spey. It is not an island.