Methane galore: Whisky and the green energy revolution

Whisky has a huge carbon footprint. But now a green energy revolution could be changing all that, says Jamie Merrill

Facing Loch Indaal on the coast of Islay, the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides, a small whisky distillery is one of the last places you might expect to find a revolutionary green energy project.

But Bruichladdich, a small privately owned distillery founded in 1881, is pioneering a system which is converting thousands of tons of yeasty waste into green energy.

Islay is home to some of Scotland's best-known whiskies, including Ardbeg and Lagavulin, and the industry has come under pressure to reduce its burgeoning carbon footprint, one of the highest of any food or drink. "Alcohol, like all food and drinks we consume, has a carbon footprint but until now we've tended to focus on high-profile examples such as green beans flown in from Kenya," says Tara Garnett, who runs the Food Climate Research Network at the University of Surrey. "But whisky, not only because we consume more of it, has a very large carbon footprint."

None of the main distilleries will release figures for their energy consumption but it's known that producing a bottle of beer – a far less energy-intensive process than whisky – creates up to 900g of carbon dioxide, compared to 21g for a cup of black tea. And whisky is often exported in heavy bottles with plenty of elaborate packaging.

Now though, thanks to consumer pressure and work by academics like Garnett, whisky distilleries are looking for greener production methods. Diageo, one of the biggest, has just invested £65m in green technology at its Cameronbridge distillery at Fife.

On Islay, Bruichladdich is leading the way with a pioneering process called anaerobic digester, which uses microbes to convert thousands of tons of pot ale (the yeasty by-product of producing 46,000 cases of single malt whisky a year) into methane gas, which is burned to make energy for the site.

Bacteria breaks down the organic waste in huge tanks without oxygen, meaning it cannot digest the waste fully, so, instead of just producing carbon dioxide, it produces methane, the main constituent of natural gas.

"Whisky has two main waste streams: the first is spent barley, which at Bruichladdich goes to feed local cattle; and pot ale – warm water and dead yeast – which until recently was trucked to the other side of the island and poured down a drain into the sea," says Mark Reynier, the company's owner. "The new equipment wasn't cheap. It cost us £275,000 to install but it's saving us £150,000 a year in electricity and the cost to truck our waste across the island for environmentally friendly disposal. Now our only real waste product is water."

The concept of anaerobic digestion isn't new. Irish scientist Robert Boyle first identified the concept around 1670 when he noted flammable gas bubbling to the surface of a muddy pond floor. Until recently, however, the technical expertise required, the enormous scale and low level of efficiency limited the process's commercial viability. But at Bruichladdich it has been made possible by a miniaturised digestion system.

The process began with 12 tons of bespoke microbes, bred to deal specifically with Bruichladdich's pot ale. These microbes were gradually fed into increasing volumes of pot ale in two vats to create biogas. As Reynier delicately puts it: "Our farting microbes are farting methane to power our generator which in turn feeds into the distillery's electrical distribution network."

Reynier, who now runs his Nissan Leaf electric car off the system, says the system provides 100 per cent of the distillery's power. He isn't a traditional environmentalist though: "I'm no eco-warrior. There are so many hare-brain environmental schemes out there and in the whisky industry that just don't work or are simply PR exercises. This, though, was a very interesting concept that made good business sense."

Sport
Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez celebrate during Liverpool's game with Norwich
sport Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
Sport
Luis Suarez celebrates after scoring in Liverpool's 3-2 win over Norwich
Football Vine shows Suarez writhing in pain before launching counter attack
Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents The ad shows Prince Charles attired for his coronation in a crown and fur mantle with his mouth covered by a criss-cross of white duct tape
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sport LIVEFollow the latest news and scores from today's Premier League as Liverpool make a blistering start against Norwich
VIDEO
News
People White House officials refuse to make comment on 275,000 signatures that want Justin Bieber's US visa revoked
News
Sir Cliff Richard is to release his hundredth album at age 72
PEOPLESir Cliff Richard has used a candid appearance on an Australian talk show to address long-running speculation about his sexuality

Sport
Lukas Podolski celebrates one of his two goals in Arsenal's win over Hull

Arsenal strengthened their grip on a top-four finish with a straightforward 3-0 win over Hull City.

Arts & Entertainment
Quentin Tarantino, director
arts + ents Samuel L Jackson and Michael Madsen have taken part in a reading of Quentin Tarantino’s axed follow-up to Django Unchained.
News
The speeding train nearly hit this US politican during a lecture on rail safety
news As the saying goes, you have to practice what you preach
Sport
Mercedes Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain (front) drives ahead of Red Bull Formula One driver Daniel Ricciardo of Australia during the Chinese F1 Grand Prix at the Shanghai International circuit
sport Hamilton captured his third straight Formula One race with ease on Sunday, leading from start to finish to win the Chinese Grand Prix

Arts & Entertainment
Billie Jean King, who won the women’s Wimbledon title in 1967, when the first colour pictures were broadcast
tv
News
Snow has no plans to step back or reduce his workload
mediaIt's 25 years since Jon Snow first presented Channel 4 News, and his drive shows no sign of diminishing
Life & Style
food + drinkWhat’s not to like?
Voices
Clock off: France has had a 35‑hour working week since 1999
voicesThere's no truth to a law banning work emails after 6pm, but that didn’t stop media hysteria
Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Kingdom Tower
architecture
Life & Style
Lana Del Rey, Alexa Chung and Cara Delevingne each carry their signature bag
fashionMulberry's decision to go for the super-rich backfired dramatically
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit