Drink And Drive?

The news media and the blogosphere seem to be awash in news about aqua vitae – aka uisge beatha – or simple whisky. The Scottish single malt of course. While it’s nice to have a little on hand for medicinal purposes, it seems that the Scots have decided that they have a new way to make money from the wondrous liquor.

The fermentation process produces other alcohols as well as ethanol. The latter of course we love and large volumes of ethanol/water blends flavored with various natural flavors are consumed in large quantities worldwide. But higher alcohols are also produced. The principle one is butanol. Now, we can metabolize butanol, although it is three times as toxic as ethanol, but too much effects the taste and the resulting headache.

A new company, Celtic Renewables Ltd., has been spawned by Napier U with the intent of harvesting the butanol (1,2). A good whisky still condenses out most of the butanol so it doesn’t end up in your glass and so the target is the waste from the process. That is, the undistilled liquor known as pot ale by the cognoscenti and also there is potential in the wet grain mash remaining from the fermentation process (draff).

So what are they going to do with all this butanol? Biofuel, of course, as it can be blended easily with gasoline to higher percentages than ethanol and packs more punch liter for liter.

Soon we’ll see breweries and wineries getting into the act. Don’t know about the cider makers though, those old English farmhouse scrumpy makers seemed to be happy slurping down exciting blends of various alcohols and related organics.

Soon it seems that we’ll be helping to save the planet by making our daily ‘wee dram’ (for our health’s sake, of course) into a ‘muckle dram’ even if it’s from a combination of several mickle ones.

  1. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-business-16701335
  2. http://www.napier.ac.uk/randkt/rktcentres/bfrc/Pages/Butanol.aspx 

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