Eco-friendly scotch: Scottish distillery firm aiming for net zero whisky

WION Web Team
ScotlandUpdated: Aug 30, 2021, 07:17 PM IST

File photo. Photograph:(ANI)

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Nine distilleries in Scotland’s Islay burn 15m litres of oil each year, contributing significantly to the highest per capita CO2 emissions of any community in Scotland

Bruichladdich distillery has always enjoyed great patronage among drinkers and revelled itself for making the “finest whisky” in Scotland.

However, the company is facing a significant problem. Like other 164 distilleries in the neighbourhood in Scotland, it relies on fuel oil, brought in on diesel-powered ferries, to fire the boilers. 

Nine distilleries in Scotland’s Islay burn 15m litres of oil each year, contributing significantly to the highest per capita CO2 emissions of any community in Scotland, according to the Guardian.

Hoping to buck the trend, the company has vowed to ensure that by 2025 its distillation process achieves net zero emission, which means maintaining a balance between the amount of greenhouse gas produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere

Bruichladdich is working on an innovative type of green hydrogen production using green electricity and water electrolysis, unlike the conventional method which uses natural gas and emits CO2 in the atmosphere.

For now it is depending on a green tariff, but it plans to use renewables installed around the island over the next few years, most likely wind, but there are hopes that tidal power will be possible at some point.

Douglas Taylor, Bruichladdich’s chief executive, believes that if successful the technique could help power Islay’s other distilleries, businesses and homes.

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

Whisky is the UK’s most valuable net export product, worth nearly £5bn in 2019, but its largest distilleries have depended for years on burning gas. Fuel oil is widely used across remoter areas.

Moreover, whisky producers are aware that the droughts and seasonal variations of climate change will hit Scottish barley harvests and the water supplies essential to whisky production, said Morag Garden, the Scotch Whisky Association’s head of sustainability. Flooding will hit distilleries and transport.

However, the industry has set a net zero target date of 2040, 10 years earlier than the UK government’s current goal and five years earlier than Scotland’s, according to the SWA, and is partway towards achieving it.

A number of major distilleries are switching to anaerobic digestion using their own whisky-production byproduct, known as draff; biomass boilers; and, as a step to replace fuel oils, more efficient gas boilers.

The hydrogen production technique destined for testing at Bruichladdich has been designed by Protium, a London-based energy firm, with £74,000 in development funding from the UK government, using a US technology.

The government has set aside £10m for research on helping the UK’s whisky and spirits industries go net zero, and Protium has just applied for a second wave of funding.

Hydrogen will be part of a comprehensive shift of Bruichladdich’s business towards self-sufficiency and sustainability, says Taylor. The distillery, owned by Rémy Cointreau, a French luxury drinks firm, was the first in Scotland to achieve B Corp status – a corporate ethics designation intended to balance “purpose with profit”.

“We’re trying to pioneer something for a wider island benefit. We’re very much supportive 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,” Taylor said.

(With inputs from agencies)