Topping up at the petrol pump is about to take an intriguing twist as cars are set to be fuelled with a new super biofuel, made from whisky by-products.

Edinburgh Napier University has filed a patent for the new biofuel, which can be used in ordinary cars, without any special adaptions needed.

The innovative fuel process has been developed over the last two years by Edinburgh Napier’s Biofuel Research Centre. As part of their research, the centre was provided with samples of whisky distilling by-products from Diageo’s Glenkinchie Distillery. The £260,000 research project was funded by Scottish Enterprise’s Proof of Concept programme.

The Edinburgh Napier Biofuel research team focused on the £4bn whisky industry as a ripe resource for developing biobutanol – the next generation of biofuel which gives 30% more output power than ethanol. It uses the two main by-products of the whisky production process – ‘pot ale’, the liquid from the copper stills, and ‘draff’, the spent grains, as the basis for producing the butanol that can then be used as fuel.

With 1,600 million litres of pot ale and 187,000 tonnes of draff produced by the malt whisky industry annually, there is real potential for bio-fuel to be available at local garage forecourts alongside traditional fuels. Unlike ethanol, the nature of the innovative bio-fuel means that ordinary cars could use the more powerful-fuel, instead of traditional petrol. The product can also be used to make other green renewable bio-chemicals, such as acetone.

The University now plans to create a spin-out company to take the new fuel to market and leverage the commercial opportunity, in the bid to make it available at petrol pumps.

Director of the Biofuel Research Centre at Edinburgh Napier University, Professor Martin Tangney is leading the ground-breaking research. He said: “The EU has declared that biofuels should account for 10% of total fuel sales by 2020. We’re committed to finding new, innovative renewable energy sources.

“While some energy companies are growing crops specifically to generate biofuel, we are investigating excess materials such as whisky by-products to develop them. This is a more environmentally sustainable option and potentially offers new revenue on the back of one Scotland’s biggest industries. We’ve worked with some of the country’s leading whisky producers to develop the process.”

Lena Wilson, chief executive, Scottish Enterprise, said: “This pioneering research is testament to Scotland’s world-class science base and demonstrates how Scottish Enterprise helps to transform cutting-edge knowledge into successful new high-growth sustainable businesses for Scotland.

“The Scottish Enterprise Proof of Concept Programme is successful precisely because of its high calibre projects. By proactively taking innovative ideas from the laboratory to the global market place, Scotland can continue to compete at the highest level and successfully boost its economic recovery.”

Jim Mather, Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism said: “This is an innovative  development, and I am delighted to see Edinburgh Napier University once again display its expertise in this field by bringing this biofuel to market.

“I support the development and use of sustainable biofuels. This innovative use of waste products demonstrates a new sustainable option for the biofuel industry, while also supporting the economic and environmental objectives of the Scottish Government’s new Zero Waste Plan.

“In these challenging economic times we need to play to our strengths and take advantage of the low carbon opportunities of the future. It’s exactly this type of innovation that will help sustain economic recovery and deliver future sustainable economic growth.”

Susan Morrison, Director and General Manager at The Scotch Whisky Experience said: “Working in a tourism role to represent the Whisky Industry we are delighted that the green agenda is moving forward at such a pace, both through the Green Tourism Scheme and innovations such as this new whisky bio-fuel.”


  1. Very well done with this. I realise that it is some time since this article has passed but maybe the Edinburgh Reporter might take note of the continuing interests here – AND IMPORTANTLY – the advancement of this to encompass new orders of magnitude and importance in the renewable fuels which Professor Martyn Tangney’s Team are following.
    The real issue in the renewable fuels area is not that the sources of materials are individually selective for their “unique-ness” (whatever that means) and that they may have originated from whisky (not whiskey as reported elsewhere in the wider International Press domains) but that they have arisen from a source of waste. This to me – and to the wider communities in Edinburgh and Scotland, (and equally across the wider UK and Ireland) must be applauded. We should not stop at using whisky waste, but use the residuals from our Municipal Solid/Liquid Wastes and Industrial and Farming/Agricultural Wastes as well.
    Why? Simply put – these materials are very readily available and represent a burden to the Council Tax and Tax Payers in Scotland for which the apparent solution of remedy is to burn them so as to make energy. This burning (alright incineration) programme is the most expensive option ever considered in Scotland (and the wider UK) and the EU or indeed beyond for offering a solution to man’s waste disposal. To make it work it has to be financed by some innovative money manipulations that generally end up with the use of the now seriously faulted PFI (Private Finance Initiative) programme that has been so berated by Government Departments all across the UK in recent time as well as being wholly unsatisfactory in the environmental arena.
    Now with this development by Napier University supported by the Scottish Parliament we have a simple and cost-effective solution to dealing with the residual fraction found in these wastes, the organic material, known as lignocellulose-biomass, which can be converted through the same procedures to make the biofuel Butanol. And the capital costs needed for investing in such a programme would reduce the costs for treating the municipal solid waste in Scotland to less than a third of the current programme proposed as incineration by the Cities and SEPA!
    This cannot be ignored! This must not be ignored. This is the Tax Payers’ money.
    What is more with the quantities of this biomass available in Scotland we can make over 85% of all the transportation fuels needed there from this route at a cost per litre of just 45 pence — yes 45 pence — and in this cost even with the application of taxes it means that it would sell for less than 80 pence — yes 80 pence — per litre.
    Imagine that as a result of this development from Napier University and the skills developed through Professor Martyn Tangney’s Biofuels Group that we could move totally away from relying on oil derived fuels for our cars, and the fuel would have almost the same energy input.
    So then Edinburgh Reporter, and Mr A Salmond First Minister for Scotland’s Parliament what about that claim? If You in Scotland wish to be at the forefront of this near full independence from oil used in transport then here is your chance.
    I personally know that there is one company waiting in the wings to bring its base technology in converting lignocellulose-based biomass to the fractions required to assist in this Butanol technology development. Indeed I did here that it had made moves in Scotland two years ago to promote their programme and was by-passed in its moves. This shows that there is the impetus to do this from industry but no response from the Government.
    Let’s hear again that we can make Scotland’s Future bright and assist Martyn Tangney with this impressive development.

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