Green hydrogen to distill Scotch whiskey

In the north of Scotland, where the Romans decided not to go, the history of this British enclave was forged. There, among myths, legends and enormous lake monsters, the highlands of Scotland or Highland expand with more than 25,000 square kilometers of green mountains and meadows that give life to one of the hallmarks of this northern region: Scotch whiskey. A drink that leaves its mark on the consumer and the environment.

With more than 500 years of life, this breatha water (water of life in Gaelic) is made in a particular and characteristic way. «The three natural ingredients used to make it come from some of the most beautiful areas of Scotland. Therefore, we have long been determined to play our part in preserving the natural environment,” notes the Scotch Whiskey Association.

Cereals, water and yeast that are treated in a particular way in which, in many cases, fossil fuels are used to heat and cool the water in the distillation process. “Both cereals and peat, Scottish fields, hills and forests influence the production of Scotch whiskey, and the sector recognizes its duty to protect these important natural resources,” details the Scottish association. The sector began its journey to decarbonization at the end of the last decade and has allowed them to reduce their CO2 emissions by around 53%. “We started this journey in 2009: now we will accelerate it,” they add.

The zero emissions roadmap is mid-century but it wants to pick up speed with wind and water power, because Scotland plans to use electrolysers powered by green energy from wind farms on the Cromarty Firth coast. Specifically, green hydrogen will act as a steam producer, something necessary to carry out the distillation process. “This region has enormous natural resources for the production of wind energy both offshore and on land,” details Mark Bradley, hydrogen director at ScottishPower, Iberdrola’s subsidiary in the United Kingdom.

Scotland, through Scotwind, already has 27GW of offshore wind auctioned which it hopes to increase with the North of Scotland Hydrogen Program through the development of a state-of-the-art center on the Cromarty Firth. This project joins another recently agreed by Iberdrola’s subsidiary, ScottishPower, with Global Energy Group, with the aim of working together to identify processes and facilities that could be powered with green hydrogen at its facilities in the port of Nigg. Green hydrogen will be used to power facilities, heavy machinery and vehicles used in the site’s daily operations, as well as to power high-temperature, energy-intensive processes. “It will displace current fossil fuel sources and provide green hydrogen for distillery heating processes, with potential applications in other local manufacturing, food production and industrial heating,” says Bradley.

While waiting to know the size of the plant, “up to 12 tons of green hydrogen can be produced per day,” says the hydrogen director of Iberdrola’s British subsidiary. Plans call for construction to begin next financial year and its future delivery of green hydrogen to Glenmorangie, Whyte and Mackay and Diageo will give them the opportunity to decarbonise the heating of their distilleries and malthouses, located near the Cromarty Firth. “This would be achieved by using hydrogen as a substitute for fossil fuels to create the energy necessary to produce steam and carry out the distillation process,” say those responsible for the project.

Whisky net zero

Just across this Scottish port and on the coast opposite the island of Mulli they don’t hear about hydrogen. «For us, hydrogen is less important because we run on biomass that we grow ourselves. “Hydrogen may play a role in our production in the future,” Amy Stammers, spokesperson for the Ncn’ean distillery, responds by email. “There are many ways for a distillery to improve its environmental performance,” she adds.

Located on the west coast of the Scottish Highlands, this young company, opened in 2017, calls itself “protectors of nature”. “The carbon intensity of whiskey production must be reduced by abandoning the burning of fossil fuels as a heat source,” says Stammers. His work, they say, has three aspects: bottle, water and barley. “This allows us to reduce our carbon footprint by 42%,” they say on his website.

The waste generated in the production process of this alcoholic beverage, those responsible point out, is exclusively returned to the earth here at the distillery, “either in liquid form or as solid waste.” Thus they have managed to emit 1.74 kg CO2 equivalent per bottle. “We are net zero now,” they point out in their sustainability report.

However, emissions have not disappeared, but rather they offset it. “What cannot be avoided can be compensated by purchasing credits that represent 1 ton of CO2 removed from the atmosphere,” they explain.

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