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Neat whisky solution powers island distillery

A Hebridean distiller has installed a pioneering new system to get volts from malts to power its distillery exclusively from recycled whisky waste.

On the remote Scottish island of Islay, the privately owned Bruichladdich distillery has installed a ground-breaking new scheme based on an old concept to become self sufficient in power.

Residual organic material left in ‘pot ale’ (the warm, watery post-distillation waste) is converted in to biogas by the action of microbes living in the absence of air – a process known for some time as anaerobic digestion.

The principal was first identified by scientist Robert Boyle around 1670, who noticed flammable bubbles emerging from the floor of a muddy pond.  Although the first digester was built in 1859, it never took off as a concept – being too vast, expensive, inefficient and reliant on constant scientific monitoring.

Now an economically viable, compact version has been designed by Dr Paul Ditchfield of Biowayste Systems. This modern, hi-tech version uses a bespoke culture of microbes, and is scaled specifically to suit Bruichladdich’s operations.

Modern technology has improved the efficiency and replaced the day-to-day technical expertise required allowing small companies to benefit from this simple, green science for the first time.

When Bruichladdich was built by the young Harvey brothers as a state-of-the-art distillery in 1881, Victorian pragmatism ensured many new efficiency ideas were incorporated in to the design,  many were subsequently adopted industry-wide.

From the Victorians up until today there was nothing that could be done with the distillery's watery waste which was merely piped out to sea. Now, thanks to a bunch of bilious microbes, it is recycled to produce electricity.

Managing director Mark Reynier said: “We wanted a ‘beautifully simple’ solution in keeping with the pioneering Harvey brothers –- not just a conscience-salving piece of paper telling us how good we have been; we wanted waste out, power in. Now we can power the whole distillery from our whisky waste.  Drink Bruichladdich and save the planet! How neat is that?”

The biogas is created by 12 tons of microbes feeding off the pot ale in two reactors. Once commissioned, the gas is fed to a generator to create electricity to power the distillery and its 10 acre site, including bottling hall, computers, offices, warehouses and vehicles.

It is anticipated that energy savings will produce a payback of two years on the almost £0.3m cost.

About digesters:

The first digester was built in 1859, but the level of continual technical expertise required, the enormous scale, high capital costs, and low level of efficiency - severely limited its commercial viability, meaning it could be used only on very large industrial projects in a part only solution. Roseile, Diageo’s £40m mega-distillery recently installed a type of digester.

The Biowayste compact version brings the science in to the reaches of small businesses such as food manufacturers and farmers.

Carbon savings: 225 tons per year.

 

 

1 November 2010 - Felicity Murray