Is a revolution in sustainable transport about to begin in Grangemouth? A professor says: ‘I’m not sure I could have done this anywhere else in the world other than Scotland.’


‘I’m not sure I could have done this anywhere else in the world other than Scotland. We’ve had tremendous support from the Scottish Government.’ Professor Martin Tangney

As recently as August this year we heard of a car using biofuel from ‘draff’, the residue of husks after fermentation of the grain and the residual waste liquid ‘pot ale’, being driven round Edinburgh in July. See:

‘Whisky-fuelled car makes first journey’ Calm down it’s not the good stuff!

We also heard in the same month of another use by growing algae from Whisky ‘co-products’ and feeding the omega 3 rich algae to fish. See:

First Whisky-driven cars, now Whisky-fed fish

Less than four months after the drive round Edinburgh, a new demonstration plant to make a petrol substitute from whisky residue, in Grangemouth, has had planning approval. Celtic Renewables Ltd aim to produce half a million litres of the biofuel, Biobutanol, per year, commencing in early 2018.

The plant will use some of the 750,000 tonnes of draff and two billion litres of ‘pot ale’ produced by the Perthshire, Tullibardine Distillery. Reported in Energy Voice, Celtic Renewables say:

‘This is a very exciting time for biotechnology in Scotland. Our plant, which will use entirely sustainable raw materials to make high value low carbon products, will be the first of its kind in the world. It will shine a global spotlight on innovation in Scotland in the low carbon economy.’

Locating the plant in Grangemouth which is Scotland’s petrochemical hub makes perfect sense and as a former, temporary, ‘Portonian’ myself, I’m really pleased to see a former boom town but one currently a bit down on its heels, get an employment boost. Back in the 70s, before I went to university as a mature student, I had worked in the former ICI Chemicals plant there making the blue dye used in denims. It was my wee contribution to the Love Generation.

Celtic Renewables seem sure that their new biofuel will be ‘low carbon.’ I couldn’t find direct evidence from them, so I had a look around and found this peer-reviewed research paper:

‘Production of biofuels promises substantial improvement in air quality through reducing emission from burning of the fuel used in vehicle engines. Some of the developing countries have started biofuel production and utilization as transport fuel in local market. Thus, below are described some important conclusions that we can be done about the use of biofuels by vehicle engines. Compared to fossil diesel, the emission of regulated and non-regulated compounds from biofuels burning are generally equal or lower. An exception is NOx emission, which is generally higher with use of the biofuels, more specifically of the biodiesel use. The amount of compounds emitted, depends considerably on the type of engine, its configuration, the load condition and the use of a catalyzer. In most cases, reducing the emission of unwanted compounds requires modification in the standard engines for the use of biodiesel and/or raw vegetable oil and ethanol.’

As I understand it, the car driven round Edinburgh required no modification. As for the ominous sounding NOx, this is Nitrogen Oxides which do contribute to the production of smog and acid rain. I searched for ‘Celtic Renewables fuel nitrogen oxide’ but found nothing, so if any reader can find out if the Celtic Renewables fuel does or does not do so that would be interesting.


9 thoughts on “Is a revolution in sustainable transport about to begin in Grangemouth? A professor says: ‘I’m not sure I could have done this anywhere else in the world other than Scotland.’

  1. Alan Gordon December 14, 2017 / 1:28 pm

    Another beam of very good, positive light on this wee country. Increase in NOx emissions from biofuels ? Possibly due to an increase in the N in the base material, draff as a foodstuff has a high protein/nitrogen content and or this type of fuel makes the engine burn hotter, which would also increase the NOx emissions.


    • Alasdair Macdonald December 14, 2017 / 2:12 pm

      An example of ‘you win some you lose some’? Very often a significant benefit can have adverse side effects. We are. probably, most familiar with that with regard to medication and, after a while, we accept, somewhat utilitarianly, that the benefit outweighs the adverse.

      If, as you are speculating, from a reasonable basis, that there is an increase in nitrous oxides emitted during the process, then we have to assess how much of these are produced and whether this amount makes a significant difference to the production of atmospheric nitrous oxides from all other sources. Obviously, it would be better if there were no additional NOx, but, if the main product produces, say, a significant reduction in carbon emissions, then we have to make a judgement call.

      Your hypothesis depends on the burning process within engines remaining as it is at present. It is feasible that a different design, might, for example, dissipate heat more quickly reducing the rate of NOx output or that the engine might have some ‘scrubbing’ attachment which removes all or some of the NOx.

      A wider question arises from the Professor’s statement about the possibility that his process could not have been done anywhere but in Scotland. He is arguing that in Grangemouth there is a historic centre of excellence with skilled personnel and a distribution network. This is a well-validated hypothesis, with examples throughout history and throughout the world.

      This is the kind of thing which public investment is very good at promoting despite the pernicious argument about ‘the dead hand of Government’. However, the private sector could do much more in this if they were to abandon the self-destructive accountants’ ‘maximising shareholder value’ criterion. It is self-destructive of the interests of these very shareholders in the medium term, too, with the main beneficiaries being the buccaneering financier class who suck out large bonuses and move on. If companies were to have a flatter wage pyramid, with all employees sharing in company gains in a significant way and if the companies were to invest more in innovation, not just within their own companies but within the sectors in which they operate and also contributed to the ambience of the ambience of the areas around their premises, then they would almost certainly find shareholder value rising in a number of ways.

      The most famous company in the Grangemouth area is INEOS and its chief executive, Mr Ratcliffe is certainly viewed by many as a robber baron, particularly in relation to the company’s demands for fracking. Were developments like the one which forms the basis of the article to provide an alternative fuel source then the ‘need’ for fracking would disappear. (The SG is right to have banned fracking). Were INEOS to adopt a much more cooperative and social approach, I think it would benefit and the Grangemouth area would benefit, too. Indeed, in time, a statue of Mr Ratcliffe might have its place beside the Kelpies.

      Liked by 1 person

      • johnrobertson834 December 14, 2017 / 2:36 pm

        Interesting thoughts but maybe give the rat cliffe statue a miss?


  2. macgilleleabhar December 14, 2017 / 1:58 pm

    The farming community in the North East are not best pleased about this as they fear it may impact on the costs of beef cattle feed but given the amount of bovine greenhouse gas produced world wide draft may be better used in reducing transport emissions.
    Although having said that Scottish scientists have recently developed ways of reducing bovine emissions considerably so it looks as if you have the need of a solution Scotland can provide it.


    • Alasdair Macdonald December 14, 2017 / 2:25 pm

      Macgilleleabhar, I think we also need to view ‘farming’ as an industrial process, too and that, like the petrochemical industry, it produces adverse effects, too, in addition to bovine flatulence. It has always, since the first nomads began to settle, upset the local ecosystem to some extent. But, with nature being pretty resilient and adaptable a new equilibrium followed. However, with the industrialisation of farming – such as on the prairies of Canada, the midwest of the USA, on the Steppes of Russia, etc – there was significant unbalancing. Even on the much smaller scale of farming in Scotland, some like cattle farming can have a severe local disbenefit elsewhere in the ecosystem. However, it is clear that many farmers are acknowledging this and adapting methods more in harmony with nature. This, of course, means setting land aside and not ‘maximising acreage output’ as accountants might demand. So, perhaps the cattle farmers, if feed stock costs rise might look to innovative local replacements or adapt their practices.

      Of course, the real rape of Scotland was the sheep and the ‘sporting estates’. The sooner these are effectively taxed and face pressures to be broken into smaller community owned units the better.

      Liked by 1 person

    • johnrobertson834 December 14, 2017 / 2:37 pm

      Well spotted. Does drinking more whisky reduce your desire for a burger or increase it?


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