Whisky business: the fuel propelling cars of the future

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“You must have whisky to give you energy,” Margaret Thatcher was known to say in her hey-day. She may have been more right than she knew.

A UK startup yesterday became the first company to successfully fuel a car using whisky or, more accurately, the whisky residue biofuel.

“My fingers were crossed, I have to confess,” Professor Martin Tangney, the founder and president of Celtic Renewables, said. “We physically poured a bottle of [alcohol] butanol into the car, but the scale of this could be huge.”

The whisky biofuel is produced using both draff, which are sugar-rich kernels of barley used to bring about fermentation in the whisky making process, and pot ale, the copper-containing yeasty liquid left after distilling the whisky.

The malt whisky industry produces nearly 750,000 tonnes of draff and 2bn litres of pot ale each year in Scotland.

John Torrance, the distillery manager at Tullibardine Distillery in Perthshire which is working with the startup, said: “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.”

 Celtic Renewables
 Celtic Renewables filling up the hire car

The team behind the trial of the biofuel used a hire car, which had been delivered earlier this week, and had drained the existing fuel from the car the night before the test.

“The test run shows that we know we could make it,” Mr Tangney said. “The blue print just needs to be replicated.”

Celtic Renewables is looking to build a demonstration centre within the next 18 months, should it be able to secure additional funding on top of the £9m funding it received from the Scottish Government.

Professor Martin Tangney 
Professor Martin Tangney 

Mr Tangney said biofuel had an important role to play in efforts to reduce reliance upon petrol, and could work in tandem with the shift towards electric cars.

Earlier this week, Volvo announced plans to become the first major car manufacturer to go all electric by 2019, when every new car in its range will have an electric power train available.

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