Energy efficient

Dave Broom concludes his two part investigation into the impact of climate change on whiskyproduction by examining how the industry is meeting the challenge.
By Dave Broom
As last month’s issue showed, the whisky industry will be directly affected by the consequences of climate change. Shifting weather patterns, drought, sea level rise, sea temperature change, coastal erosion, flood plain damage, increased incidence of flooding, all will have an impact on industry infrastructure as well as on the raw materials needed to produce the spirit. The science behind climate change is now accepted and becoming increasingly, depressingly, precise. What though, in practical terms, is being done to try and reduce the effects of this inevitable change and is it enough?Whisky-making is energy-intensive.Malting, kilning, mashing, distillation, effluent disposal, all require high amounts of energy. Transportation and packaging adds to the overall environmental impact. Like all United Kingdom industries, distillers are required to meet Government targets for reducing energy efficiency levels by 2010.Campbell Evans is director of government and consumer affairs at the Scotch Whisky Association. “The climate change agreement has set specific targets for energy usage per litre of alcohol produced. These are currently being bettered and the level is now 13.5 per cent lower than it was in 1999, despite an upping of production. In addition, carbon emissions have also been reduced by 10 per cent. In going forward, the SWA, through its energy committee, is looking at the potential impacts of climate change. It is an ambitious timescale, but the important fact is that we are being proactive.” In many ways, the Scotch whisky industry has a head start. Heat exchangers within distilleries are hardly new innovations, waste heat is recycled wherever possible both in the distillery and, as anyone who has luxuriated in Bowmore’s swimming pool can attest, in the wider community. In Wick, for example, Old Pulteney is generating electricity for neighbouring houses.NEWBUILD NEWWAY As established distilleries find further ways in which to reduce energy, the new builds which are either underway or in the planning stages are under increasing scrutiny to demonstrate their green credentials. “The environmental impact of the new distillery is being taken extremely seriously, and we are looking at all options to reuse energy and recycle water,” says Michael Alexander at Diageo, when asked about plans for the firm’s mega-plant at Roseisle. “Our aspiration is to create a distillery that will deploy the latest technology and green practices to have a neutral impact.“It is our intention to minimise the environmental impact of the new distillery in terms of water and fossil fuel usage and discharges to the environment. In fact, we have set an ambitious target of making the distillery water and fossil fuel neutral. We hope to use technologies that are relatively new to the distilling industry, such as biomass boilers to raise steam from the spent grains, and waste water treatment by anaerobic digestion and membrane filtration.Having a maltings close to the distillery will also allow us to maximise opportunities for waste heat recovery.” Duncan Taylor’s new plant in Huntly is aiming to be fuelled by wood chips, an option also considered by Bruichladdich for its Port Charlotte distillery. “We looked at wood chips as an option, but it was too much trouble,” says Mark Reynier at the Islay distiller. “It would have been disruptive, there wasn’t enough 40 year wood, it was too dirty, it required a huge storage capacity, there would have been too many lorries needed – and there wasn’t enough steam pressure/generation. It was the tail wagging the dog.” Bruichladdich has started to investigate biogas, the anaerobic digestion of organic matter (draff, pot ale, etc). “The determining question will be the size of the thing, the space available, the aesthetics and the operational practicality as much as the environmental angle,” says Reynier. “These things sound really good on paper.” One solution to the issue can be seen at Deanston. “The distillery once housed the largest waterwheels in Europe and is selfsufficient in generating its own electricity, with the power source now coming from water powered turbines,” explains Katherine Crisp at Burn Stewart. “In true Scottish tradition, any electricity not used in the distillation of whisky is sold back to the national grid.” GREENER GRAIN New builds are not alone however. Grain distilling, the heaviest user of energy, is also receiving greater focus. Investment at the Chivas-owned Strathclyde grain plant includes the installation of a MVR (mechanical vapour recompression) plant, which captures energy from recovered steam. As a result of this and other improvements made between 2004 and 2006, the firm claims that there has been a drop of 10 per cent in energy usage per litre of alcohol produced and the same fall in CO2 emission levels.North British has beaten its specific energy target for 2006/7 by 25 per cent and claims to be ahead of its target for 2009/10. The distillery has also succeeded in reducing levels of carbon dioxide, ethanol vapour and total organic carbon (a measure of the contamination in effluent) during the last three years.Diageo is spending £39million expanding its Cameronbridge site and the firm is undertaking a joint feasibility study with Dalkia [energy management consultants] into the development of an anaerobic digestion plant at the distillery. “This potential project is in its early feasibility stage,” says Alexander. “If it goes ahead, it is estimated that it will reduce our BOD [Biochemical Oxygen Demand] load by 90 per cent at the site and would be one of the largest in Europe. We are looking to complete the feasibility in the first quarter of next year.In addition, we’re examining technologies that will minimise our water usage at the site and are similarly committed to maximising re-use of demolition waste on site.” MALT Though not as dramatic, many malt distilleries are making small but but significant changes. “Our priorities are first and foremost quality, and secondary, ensuring that the distillery runs as efficiently as possible,” says Robert Ransom at Glenfarclas. “Traditional Scottish prudence is very much at the heart of the distilling process with the sale of by-products to reduce waste, and employing second hand casks.This tradition is alive at Glenfarclas with more modern examples including the employment of heat exchangers, a waste heat boiler and hot water evaporator, all to cut our fuel bill, but also to benefit the environment.” Chivas Bros. claims that the complete reconstruction of Glenburgie has made it one of the most energy/CO2-efficient distilleries in the industry. Interestingly however, as a result of the water table falling Glenburgie like Longmorn, has had to sink a deeper bore hole in order to access its water source, a further indication of climate change. A series of heat recovery projects at Allt a Bhainne, Glenallachie, The Glenlivet, Glentauchers, Longmorn and Strathisla Distilleries are intended to deliver energy/CO2 reductions.The most dramatic change, the firm claims, has come at Glendronach where the switch from coal to oil has resulted in a 50% reduction in energy levels and the same fall in carbon emissions.Elsewhere, more efficient boilers are being installed to help reduce emissions. Burn Stewart has done so at Tobermory and Bunnahabhain, while Bruichladdich has replaced its two old ones with a more efficient single one, resulted in a 29 per cent reduction in oil usage. Distillery manager Duncan MacGillivray has also designed a heat exchange system which uses the heat of the pot ale to pre-heat the stills.Efficiencies have also been made in packaging. The Edrington Group has set up an energy task force which looks at a strategy to reduce energy use at its Glasgow HQ and bottling plant. “Over the last four years as a result of these energy saving initiatives, the company has achieved a net gain saving of energy of more than 1.17 million kWh, which equates to 225 tonnes of CO2,” says Stan Marshall, Edrington’s director of operational excellence. A programme of ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ at its Glasgow bottling facility has resulted in a 60 per cent cut in wastage in five years - an annual saving of £400,000. In addition, 79 per cent of Edrington’s waste is recycled and the company is working with suppliers to return re-usable packaging to them, resulting in savings on transport costs and emissions.Gordon & MacPhail, too, is recycling all of its paper and cardboard.TALKING EFFLUENT Although hardly the sexiest part of whisky production, effluent treatment and disposal also has an environmental impact and is therefore under ever-tighter guidelines.Copper levels in water discharged into rivers, for example, have very tight limits. One possible solution to improve effluent treatment is to create a reed bed to help generate an oxygen-rich environment supporting a range of micro-organisms that thrive on the nutrients present in the effluent, an option has been taken by Diageo at its Dufftown and Blair Athol distilleries. At Dufftown, the reed bed is used to ‘polish’ the bioplant effluent, reducing the amount of dissolved copper prior to discharge into the River Dullan. It also has the added benefit of reducing the organic and suspended solids load of the effluent stream. At Blair Athol the reed bed is used to break down the bioplant sludge and eliminates the need for it to be sprayed onto agricultural land.Likewise, Macallan has chosen “environmentally-friendly technology” to reduce the amount of copper in its discharge into the River Spey to a fifth of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency’s (SEPA) consented limits.All of this is laudable and there is compelling evidence that the industry is doing something, yet there remains a nagging feeling that it isn’t being done for the sake of the environment, but for that of efficiency and cost cutting. Robert Ransom: “I am not going to claim that we are a leader in the field of making the whisky industry greener. However we will always consider new practices that help to make the distillery more efficient, and thus there would be a secondary benefit for the environment.” Given the overwhelming evidence about global warming, surely this thinking should be reversed? The environment should come first. It is the ‘efficiency’ (ie savings) which should be the secondary benefit. Indeed, it could be argued that helping to slow climate change will inevitably see an increase in underlying costs.Underpinning many of the comments was this feeling that commercial advantage was a more powerful motivating factor than any sense of shared environmental responsibility.“I am not convinced of the global warming/climate change/Al Gore-esque arguments, or the scientific research-induced hysteria that is being exploited by the government,” says Mark Reynier. “Climate change’ and ‘carbon footprint’ are in my view excuses. Distilleries are pretty efficient for economic reasons first and foremost and if energy savings can be made by recycling waste streams then that will be done anyhow.” This argument underpins one of the main conflicts between the business community, the Government and scientists. Business is not predisposed to being bossed around by legislators — the feeling is intensified when scientists begin making their demands.There was one comment from a distiller which pointed to this mindset. In the middle of outlining his firm’s achievements, he began to discuss, “the contribution of carbon dioxide emissions to potential global climate change.” Though this might seem like splitting hairs, the use of the word ‘potential’ carries within it the underlying state of denial in which most of us live. It is happening. As the author of The End of Nature, Bill McKibben, writes: “Permafrost is melting.Get it?” Climate change is real.Accepting this and making it the priority – even conceivably over profits – may be a tough business decision, but it is one which will be inevitable.