Decarbonising Distilling: Is hydrogen worth the hype?

Tuesday 13th July 2021

If the rural distillery sector is to decarbonise, it needs a flexible and reliable low carbon energy source available today.

The distillery sector is of huge importance to the UK economy, particularly in Scotland, which is home to 130 whiskey distilleries. These distilleries are split into five whisky-producing regions in mostly rural areas; Campbelltown, Highland, Islay, Lowland and Speyside.

In 2019, these whiskey producers contributed £5.5bn to the UK economy. The sector employs over 10,000 people in Scotland, with 7,000 of these jobs in rural regions.

The question of how to affordably decarbonise such a vital sector remains a tricky one. The distillation of whiskey is energy intensive, with the majority energy consumed through generating steam.

Hydrogen has recently been positioned as the silver bullet, with huge amounts of monies spent on feasibility studies; however, there are still large shadows overhanging how much hydrogen will be available for home heating in the grid, let alone decentralised uses.

The practicalities of using hydrogen in rural areas is even more acute, as it is relatively expensive and impractical to store and transport large quantities, compared to easily transportable fuels such as LPG.

If the rural distillery sector is to decarbonise, it needs a flexible and reliable low carbon energy source available today. Fortunately, off-grid distilleries looking to decarbonise have options: Bio mass, LPG and BioLPG could all be considered. However not all distilleries will be able to afford the high capital cost associated with a biomass boiler.

Take Tomatin Distillery for example, nestled in the Monadhliath mountains of the Scottish Highlands. The Tomatin Distillery has been producing whisky since 1897. Given its off-grid location, coal and heavy fuel oil were historically the only power sources available, resulting in very high fuel costs and carbon emissions.

The LPG industry is currently working towards have an ambition to be 100% renewable by 2040

With the need to reduce both, Tomatin initially introduced a biomass boiler – a fuel option previously unused in the Scottish distilling industry. While biomass was good, it wasn’t able to supply enough energy for the entire process, meaning Tomatin still had to rely on an inefficient, expensive and polluting 10MW oil boiler.

Tomatin then switched to an LPG conversion process, which they had up and running in a week with minimum disruption to production. As a result, Tomatin has seen financial savings of over 15%, and are on track to reduce carbon emissions by 560 tonnes, a saving of almost 20%.

LPG emits 33% less carbon emissions than coal and 20% less than oil, while 100% renewable bioLPG emits up to 90% less carbon emissions than LPG and is a ‘drop in’ fuel meaning it can be utilised with no additional infrastructure costs. The LPG industry is currently working towards have an ambition to be 100% renewable by 2040.

While switching fuels from oil to bioLPG or biomass produces the same carbon emissions savings, biomass boilers are less efficient and produces 250 times more air pollutants, particularly PM 2.5, than LPG and bioLPG.

So why wait for a plentiful, affordable, supply of hydrogen, which is many many years away, when distilleries relying on oil can cut their carbon footprint today with LPG and have a clear pathway to Net Zero with the transition to bioLPG.

For me, it’s a no brainer. For more information, read our recent report on the role of LPG and bioLPG in decarbonising rural businesses here.

 

* Image courtsey of The Herald

The trade association for the LPG and bioLPG industry in the UK