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Beam Suntory celebrates successful trial of hydrogen-powered distilling

Image: Direct-fired still in Glen Garioch Distillery
Beam Suntory and Supercritical Solutions are celebrating a milestone for the WhiskHy project. Their green technology trials have proven that hydrogen is a viable fuel source for direct-fired distillation. 
As part of its Proof Positive sustainability strategy, Beam Suntory has committed to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2040 and is pursuing innovative green technology across its global distilleries.
In 2021, the WhiskHy project received funding from the UK government to test the practical use of hydrogen-based decarbonization technology, on site at Beam Suntory-owned distilleries. The funding was awarded through the Green Distilleries competition, which forms part of the Department for Energy Security & Net Zero’s ‘Net Zero Innovation Portfolio’, with the project having made considerable advancements towards zero emission distilling at an industrial scale.
Suntory’s Yamazaki team in Japan carried out the trial using a pilot distillery, specifically made to carry out innovative research and development.
The trial incorporated a ‘direct-firing’ into the process, a technique seen as a more traditional method of distilling. This process uses a pure hydrogen flame instead of indirect heating by steam coils. This has been key to the WhiskHy project as it offers the potential to cut carbon emissions by up to 100%, thus rendering the process net-zero. Through associated maillard reactions, direct-firing can also enhance spirit quality and depth of character, as evidenced at the Glen Garioch distillery.
As part of Project WhiskHy, Supercritical has advanced its proprietary technology, the first ever ultra-efficient, high-pressure electrolyser, which would enable a distillery to produce and store hydrogen on site, powered by local renewable power sources. The development of Supercritical’s electrolyser recently reached a milestone of its own: the establishment of its green hydrogen demonstrator in northeast England, an essential step in the journey to commercial-scale deployment.
Matt Bird, CEO of Supercritical commented: “The WhiskHy project at Beam Suntory's renowned Yamazaki distillery has been a testament to the engineering prowess and dedication to net zero innovation within the group… Our partnership with Beam Suntory is poised to remove the premium of green hydrogen, leveraging our cutting-edge technology for a sustainable future.”
Alistair Longwell, head of distilling and environment, Beam Suntory, added: “As a company, we are intent on pushing the boundaries of green innovation… and it is through unique collaborative projects such as WhiskHy that we will get there. We are thrilled to have achieved this new milestone and look forward to continuing our progress with Supercritical as we pursue a more sustainable, resilient future for our industry.”
A part of the distilled spirit will be casked in Scotland at the Glen Garioch distillery, where it will be quality assessed as it matures. The Glen Garioch distillery recently underwent a £6 million renovation project to reinstate traditional malting floors and a direct-fired still.

11 April 2024 - Alec McDonnell