Leave it to Scotland to find a reason to make more whisky. A new research project at the University of Abertay Dundee could make it possible for cars of the future to run on fuel made from the by-products of brewing and distilling booze.
Researchers in Abertay’s School of Contemporary Sciences have been awarded a Carnegie Trust Research Grant to investigate turning residues from beer and whisky processes into biofuel.
The year long project will look at new methods of turning spent grain into bioethanol, a more environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels. And a lot more fun in the lab.
The main advantages of bioethanol over traditional fuels is that it is CO2 neutral, it produces 65% less greenhouse gas emissions and because it burns at a higher temperature it is better for fire safety, say the researchers. They're right, in a bubble. Blocking out the emissions needed for growing and processing biofuel along with the loss of the bio-materials' CO2 absorption, bioethanol is indeed better.
Using leftover material from distilleries makes bioethanol a little more practical because the primary environmental impact has already been felt.
Professor Graeme Walker said: “Scientists all over the world are trying to find a simple and cost effective way to produce more biofuels from waste or low value products.
“The supply of fossil fuels is finite – some estimates suggest that around half of the world’s oil reserves have been used up in the last 200 years - and the race is on to find more environmentally friendly alternatives.
“Brazil and the USA have both been very successful in creating bioethanol from sugarcane and maize starch respectively. Between them these countries produce over 70% of global supplies.
“The US has overtaken Brazil in production but Brazil remains the largest exporter, sending around 3.2 billion litres abroad last year alone.
“However the methods used in these countries are open to criticism since they create an increased demand for land for growing energy crops.
“In countries like Brazil this may also threaten tropical forests and perhaps cancel out any benefits from using biofuels.
“Our research will be looking at the far more complicated process of turning waste products from industry into bioethanol as an example of a second-generation biofuel.
“These products are currently disposed of or processed for animal feed and turning them into fuel would be an attractive use of the resource.
“At the moment many technical challenges remain to converting waste biomass into fuel. We will focus on finding more efficient and cost effective processes.”