Scotch Whisky Brand Partners With University to Help Small Distilleries Become More Sustainable
Scottish whisky producer Ardgowan has partnered with Heriot-Watt University’s International Centre for Brewing and Distilling and chemical engineering company Briggs of Burton to develop carbon-reducing technologies to help smaller whisky producers achieve sustainability objectives.
“The major industry players have the scale and resources to achieve their sustainability objectives. However, this research is so vital because it will provide practical guidance and technologies at a scale that’s within the reach of the many independent companies looking to capture and reuse biogenic CO2,” Dr. Jessica Skelton from Ardgowan said, according to The Manufacturer. “It could also support companies in other markets. Whisky producers in Canada, USA and Japan often look to the Scotch whisky industry as leaders in production and operational change.
The partnership will focus on identifying and assessing applications of recovered carbon dioxide (CO2) as well as CO2 generation and quality. Volatiles such as ethanol will be stripped with CO2 during fermentation, especially at the higher temperatures used in distilleries. This project will explore whether recovering these volatiles is possible.
Nearly 500,000 tons of CO2 is produced by Scottish malt and grain distilleries and breweries every year. Whisky washbacks, used in distilleries for fermentation, are generally fitted with CO2 extractors, but the CO2 from the extractors is rarely collected. The North British Distillery is a notable exception, producing CO2 for the beverage industry. The high costs and challenges involved with this extraction technology makes it difficult for smaller companies to use, however.
“Many manufacturing environmental assessments overlook biogenic CO2,” Skelton said. “As a result, these reports fail to consider the by-product’s potential. Our goal is to assess the production, capture, and potential uses of CO2 produced at our new 1 million litre per annum Scotch malt whisky distillery, finding new, sustainable uses that can be applied here and at other Scottish and international distilleries.”
Ardgowan is scheduled to open its new distillery in 2024. Through use of energy-efficient technologies and operations, it aims to achieve carbon-neutral operation ahead of the Scotch Whisky Association’s 2030 deadline, with the intention of eventually becoming net negative for CO2 production.
At its new distillery, Ardgowan will produce 755,000 kilograms of CO2 from fermentation, with plans to use technologies from Briggs of Burton, including high-temperature heat pumps, to drive down energy use.
“Both Ardgowan and Briggs of Burton will greatly benefit from research conducted by Heriot-Watt University, providing an independent perspective and broader scope when identifying opportunities across the overall malt whisky production process and its supply chain,” said Dr. Scott Davies, head of marketing at Briggs of Burton. “The Ardgowan Distillery is being designed to accept process developments through its modular construction. This means research conducted through this partnership can be directly adopted at the distillery, enabling Ardgowan to continuously assess and seek to reduce its carbon impact from the outset. As a Heriot-Watt alumni, it’s a great opportunity to help give back to the next generation of brewing and distilling engineers and scientists.”
Heriot-Watt plans to use its expertise in engineering and distilled spirits to explore and validate a wider range of carbon-reduction technologies.
“This project provides both leadership and practical solutions for distillers, brewers, and other beverage manufacturers as they strive to address their net zero challenges,” said Dr. Dawn Maskell, head of the International Centre for Brewing and Distilling at Heriot-Watt University. “Through this research, we’ll be creating suitable technologies for the wider industry, especially those that operate on a smaller scale. Current systems can be less economical and challenging to implement and we look forward to changing that.”
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