Energy from Whisky: Clearfleau building new biogas plant in Scottish Highlands

Clearfleau has started work on its latest biogas plant on a distillery for Inver House at Balmenach in rural Speyside.  The Balmenach distillery, which is almost 200 years old, has already installed a biomass boiler and when the biogas project is completed in Spring 2018 it will be one of the lowest carbon footprint distilleries in Scotland.

In an energy-intensive industry concerned about its environmental impact, anaerobic digestion (AD) is a cost-effective way to dispose of energy-rich residues, making use of the latent energy content from whisky co-products.  Clearfleau has already installed two plants on distillery sites in Scotland, with others in design.  The Balmenach project is the smallest digester the company has built to date, showing that the technology can be viable at different scales.

Craig Chapman, CEO, Clearfleau, said: “Clearfleau is helping give Balmenach whisky a greener tinge – and giving an even warmer glow to people who enjoy drinking it!  Once complete, the on-site biogas plant will provide a more sustainable solution for the distillery’s co-products, supplying renewable energy that will help reduce its power and other costs.”

The Balmenach project will treat about 130m3 per day of whisky co-products (pot ale and spent lees). Over 2,000m3 per day of biogas will be fed to a combined heat and power (CHP) engine and will supply 200kW of power and 230kW of heat for use in the operation of the distillery site. 

It will be integrated with the existing biomass boiler that already supplies renewable heat to the distillery, transforming Balmenach into one of Scotland’s most energy-efficient distillery sites.

In addition to clean energy, the only other outputs from the plant are cleansed water, which will be discharged into the nearby burn, and nutrient rich bio-solids that can provide fertility for the barley grown in Speyside to make whisky, a great example of the circular economy in action.   

Martin Leonard, Managing Director, Inverhouse Distillers, said: “Consideration for the environmental impact at each of our sites is at the heart of our business strategy. With this new investment at Balmenach we are using the very latest technology to further that commitment, working with the best partners in the business to help us achieve our environmental goals. We also hope this investment will demonstrate how low carbon manufacture and clean growth are achievable, regardless of the size, location or output of the production site.”

Craig Chapman added: “The Scottish Government’s enthusiasm for investment in clean energy generation is helping to stimulate interest in biogas on food and drink production sites with high energy demand. Our AD plants are cutting fossil fuel use, helping meet energy reduction targets cutting carbon emissions and offering an attractive return on investment.”

The biogas project at Balmenach is being overseen through feasibility, planning, permitting and construction phases by Glasgow-based Synergie Environ. Uisdean Fraser, Managing Director, Synergie Environ, said: “We are delighted to be working with Inver House and Clearfleau on this exciting project. We believe the project will deliver a malt whisky distillery which is powered entirely from renewable energy sources with the on-site combination of biomass for the primary heat source and electricity from the CHP powered by biogas from the anaerobic digestion plant.”

In 2018, Clearfleau will be building more plants on food and drink sites in Scotland and is now developing its unique technology into modular plant designs for more remote sites and export projects. Clearfleau has identified considerable growth potential in the industrial AD sector, as not only distilleries but other food and drink businesses are starting to recognise the unexploited energy value in production residues that are currently being discarded on many factory sites. 

Image Source: Clearfleau

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