Edinburgh-based biofuel company Celtic Renewables has signed an agreement with Europe’s foremost biotechnology pilot facility to undergo next-stage testing of its process to turn whisky by-products into biofuel that can power current vehicles.
The partnership, which will allow the company to develop its technology at Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant (BBEPP) in Ghent, has been made possible by second round funding worth €1.5million, including more than €1million from the UK Government, to help meet its ambition of growing a new €125 million-a-year industry in the UK.
Celtic Renewables, a spin-out company from the Biofuel Research Centre at Edinburgh Napier University, has already proved the concept of producing biobutanol from draff – the sugar-rich kernels of barley which are soaked in water to facilitate the fermentation process necessary for whisky production – and pot ale, the yeasty liquid that is heating during distillation.
It will spend the next few months seeking to replicate work done in its Scottish laboratory at an industrial scale. Celtic Renewables is the first company to trial biobutanol technology at the Belgian demonstrator pilot facility and also the first Scottish company to sign a partnership with BBEPP.
Established by the EU to enable the development of a sustainable biobased economy, BBEPP was founded to support the advancement of sustainable biobased processes that cut reliance on non-replaceable fossil fuels.
The feasibility of Celtic Renewables’ innovative process was first evaluated at BBEPP with the support of a Bio Base NWE Innovation Coupon worth €10.000. Celtic Renewables were informed about BBEPP by NNFCC, a bioeconomy consultancy located in the UK and partner of the Bio Base NWE project.
This project supports the development of the bio-based economy in North West Europe (NWE) with the aim to stimulate the overall European economy and the creation of jobs. The partnership between Celtic Renewables and Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant is one of many successful examples that proof the setup of this project pays off.
Professor Martin Tangney, Founder and President of Celtic Renewables, said the latest developments demonstrated the commitment of government and industry partners to help it meet its ambition to become a groundbreaking company, based in Scotland, with global reach.
“Our ambition to grow a sustainable international industry from Scotland requires strong partnerships and we are delighted to be working with Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant, to help us complete the next crucial stage in our development,” he said.
Professor Wim Soetaert, CEO of BBEPP, said “The transition from the current fossil-based economy towards a biobased economy is essential for industrial sustainability throughout Europe.
"Biobased production is already transforming a broad range of industries around the world and Celtic Renewables, making advanced biofuel and sustainable chemicals from whisky by-products is exactly the kind of inspired innovation that our Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant is designed to support. In this regard the synergy of our partnership is perfect and we are really excited with this opportunity to work with such a forward thinking company.”
It is anticipated that the work done by Celtic Renewables at the facility will facilitate the production of the world’s first industrial samples of biobutanol derived from whisky production residues, allowing it to be used as a direct replacement for petrol and diesel, without the need to modify engines.
The company plans to build its first commercial demonstration facility in Scotland and it is targeting a proposed €31,25million fund operated by the Department of Transport to help fund this.
Celtic Renewables recently gained second-round investment of €513,000 in private equity investment and it has been awarded funding worth more than €1000,000 from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).
Professor Tangney added: “This partnership agreement has only been made possible by the immensely encouraging demonstration of continued support from our private investors and a hugely important grant from the Department of Energy and Climate Change at Westminster”.
Michael Fallon, the UK Energy Minister, said: “This novel technology takes the by-products of Scotland’s finest export to power vehicles. DECC’s Energy Entrepreneurs Fund was designed to support small and medium-sized businesses like Celtic Renewables to develop state-of-the-art technologies, products and processes that will help us become more energy efficient.
“This is a prime example of how innovative technology can flourish with the right support.”
Maggie McGinlay, Director of Energy at Scottish Enterprise said: “The establishment of this European partnership is a significant milestone in the growth of Celtic Renewables. The rapid growth that this company has seen is testament to the value of commercialising the innovative technology coming out of the research base.
“We are particularly pleased to see a company that we have supported from the technology-development stage achieve such huge success in furthering the commercial product validation. We look forward to continuing our work with the company to realise its global ambitions.”