Drunk on Power: Scots Turn Whisky Waste Into Clean Energy

Scotland has pledged to use 100 percent renewable energy by 2020—and its liquor industry is helping fuel the shift

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Helius Energy has announced the awarding of contracts to build a 7.2-megawatt, biomass-fueled electricity plant in Morayshire, Scotland. "The plant will condition and burn solid residues from malt whisky distilling and wood fuel," according to a press release issued earlier this year by the company.

In an article posted last month on the design website Inhabitat, Lori Zimmer writes that the facility will produce enough energy to power 9,000 homes. Zimmer continues:

"The by-products of the distilling process - called draff, are used grains and pot ale (residue from copper stills) - will power the plant. The new power plant will recycle the draff into electricity, by burning it with woodchips . . .

The waste pot ale, an organic product, will be concentrated and made into an organic fertilizer that can be used on crops by local farmers, as well as an animal feed. Before this innovative new project, distillery waste was merely dumped off site in landfills.

The £40 milllion, 7.2 megawatt plant will produce as much power as two wind turbines, and is part of Scotland's green energy pledge to use 100% renewable energy by 2020.

I am pleased to learn that my personal favorite brand, Macallan, is in the distilleries' consortium that is participating in the enterprise. Helius says that in addition to the whisky byproducts the wood chips that will be used in the process will also come from sustainable sources. The net environmental benefit will be significant, says the company:

The operational plant will deliver greenhouse gas savings of some 46,000 tonnes of CO2 per year compared to UK coal fired stations and will operate at a fraction of the recently announced targets for emissions set in the sustainability criteria under the Renewables Obligations (Scotland) Order.

On its main website, Helius emphasizes its commitment to being a sustainable business:

The company's Sustainability Policy is designed to ensure ecological, social and climate change impacts are minimised, particularly in its feedstock procurement, to ensure the business exceeds UK and EU targets associated with these areas.

In an earlier posting on Inhabitat, writer Jorge Chapa quipped, "We're pretty sure that the expression 'drunk on power' was never meant to be taken this literally."


This post also appears on NRDC's Switchboard.
Image: David Moir/Reuters

Presented by

Kaid Benfield is the director of the Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, co-founder of the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system, and co-founder of Smart Growth America. More

Kaid Benfield is the director of the Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, co-founder of the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system, and co-founder of Smart Growth America. He is the author or co-author of Once There Were Greenfields (NRDC 1999), Solving Sprawl (Island Press 2001), Smart Growth In a Changing World (APA Planners Press 2007), and Green Community (APA Planners Press 2009). In 2009, Kaid was voted one of the "top urban thinkers" on Planetizen.com, and he was named one of "the most influential people in sustainable planning and development" in 2010 by the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. He blogs at NRDC's Switchboard.

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