Sustainable Scotch: Hebridean Distillery aims for net zero whiskey

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Sustainable Scotch: Hebridean Distillery aims for net zero whiskey


LLike other famous malt whiskeys made in Islay, Bruichladdich promotes its idyllic location on the island, carefully selected Scottish barley, clear Hebridean water and the loving attention of its artisanal distillers.

But Bruichladdich faces a significant problem. Like its neighboring distilleries and many more of Scotland’s 134 whiskey producers, it relies on fuel oil, brought in by diesel-powered ferries, to light the boilers. The nine Islay distilleries burn 15 million liters of oil each year. Ironically, this beautiful place may well have the highest CO per capita2 broadcasts from any community in Scotland.

But now the company has taken on the challenge of ensuring that by 2025 its distillation process will be net zero. The production of malted barley and hot mash to create the wort, the source fluid of the whiskey, will follow.

Bruichladdich hopes to pioneer the use of an innovative type of green hydrogen production using green electricity and electrolysis of water, unlike the conventional method, which uses natural gas and creates CO.2 In the process. For now it depends on a green tariff, but it plans to use the renewables installed around the island over the next few years – probably wind, but it is hoped that tidal power will be possible at a given moment.

Christy McFarlane, Bruichladdich Global Brand Manager, samples the product. Photographie : Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

Douglas Taylor, managing director of Bruichladdich, believes that if successful, the technique could help power other distilleries, businesses and homes in Islay. This could help transform the island, which is also the site of experimental tidal power pilot projects, from reliance on fossil fuels to self-sufficiency in renewable energy.

“We have this vision of ‘think big, start small, start today.’ And that’s one of the things you need in the industry: to take a brave, courageous step to represent what change might look like, ”he said. “What you need to do is start with what you can control. “

The Scottish whiskey industry as a whole faces similar challenges. Whiskey is the UK’s most valuable net export, worth almost £ 5 billion in 2019, but its largest distilleries have relied on gas combustion for years; fuel oil is widely used in remote areas. Additionally, whiskey producers are aware that droughts and seasonal variations in climate change will affect Scottish barley crops and water supplies essential for whiskey production, said Morag Garden, Scotch Sustainability Manager. Whiskey Association. The floods will hit distilleries and transport.

Today, however, the industry has set a target date of net zero at 2040, 10 years earlier than the UK government’s current target and five years earlier than Scotland’s, according to the SWA, and is reaching it.

A number of large distilleries go for anaerobic digestion using their own whiskey production by-product, known as draff; biomass boilers; and, as a step to replace fuel oils, more efficient gas boilers. At the beginning of August, Diageo, the largest producer of scotch, announced its intention to install a 4 MW solar farm near its packaging plant in Fife, equipped with 12,000 solar panels.

And some new entrants started their lives being powered entirely by renewable energy. Nc’Nean Boutique Distillery, a small organic whiskey company that began production on the Morvern Peninsula in Argyll four years ago, was recently certified as the UK’s premier net zero whiskey distillery, having invested in an expensive biomass boiler fueled by wood chips from a nearby commercial forest plantation.

“I think all companies have a responsibility to do what they can to alleviate the climate crisis we all face. I think if you start a new distillery it’s pretty inexcusable to do anything other than try to use renewable energy, ”said Annabel Thomas, founder of Nc’Nean.

Bruichladdich hopes to pioneer the use of an innovative type of green hydrogen production. Photographie : Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

The hydrogen production technique to be tested at Bruichladdich was designed by Protium, a London-based energy company, with £ 74,000 development funding from the UK government, using US technology. The government has set aside £ 10million for research to help Britain’s whiskey and spirits industries go net zero, and Protium has just requested a second round of funding.

Hydrogen will be part of a global shift in Bruichladdich’s business towards self-sufficiency and sustainability, Taylor said. The distillery, owned by Rémy Cointreau, a French luxury drink company, was the first in Scotland to achieve B Corp status – an ethical corporate designation meant to balance “purpose and profit”.

“We are trying to launch something for the wider benefit of the island. We are very much in favor of the idea that whatever we look at, could then be taken up by other distilleries but also other businesses on the island and the community, ”said Taylor.

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