Hydrogen boost to decarbonising distillation plans


Green light for more work on hydrogen 

Major funding has been granted to Bruichladdich and our partner energy company Protium to further develop innovative hydrogen combustion technology. This green hydrogen technology does not emit any carbon, or any other greenhouse gases, which would give us a renewable alternative to our current fuel.

“Green” hydrogen means it’s made by splitting hydrogen out of water H2O using electricity that comes from renewables. Our view is that other ‘colours’ of hydrogen are not viable from a sustainability point of view or an Islay point of view.

Decarbonising the distillery is a massive undertaking, but one which Bruichladdich is committed to achieving. Distillation takes a huge amount of power and currently leaves an undesirable carbon footprint due to the hydrocarbon fuel. This £2.65m grant from the Government’s Green Distilleries Competition allows us to realise a pioneering pilot project demonstrating the ability to switch from fuel oil to sustainable hydrogen energy technology. The zero-emission hydrogen boiler patented by Jericho Energy Ventures’ (TSX-V: JEV; OTC: JROOF) will be the first of its type installed in the UK, and would generate the heat we need to make the steam that we use to make our spirits – including our single malts and The Botanist Gin.

This current phase of the project is a demo – it’s an engineering and design study. The idea is to create hydrogen on site using our existing electricity supply (which is from renewable sources). There’s a small element of storage too, so we can prove the concept. We’ll run that for a year and gather data. Then we’ll use the data and the experience to enter a phase 3 (hopefully!) which addresses the scaling up and commercialisation.

What’s the background? 

A tight focus on how we power distillation is one aspect of our larger energy plan, and energy is one of our four sustainability pillars.

We’re looking at our energy use across the business – from boiling a kettle to running the stills, from the source of our electricity to how we run our fleet of vehicles.  

Our oldest pot still dates from 1881 and is no longer heated by a coal, direct fire”, as it once was.  Instead, our four whisky stills are steam powered. Steam is currently created by heating water to boiling point in our boiler and then piping the steam up to the mashhouse or through radiators and coils immersed in the stills. When the liquid contents of the still reach temperature, the alcohol evaporates, condenses and is collected, giving us the spirit to make whisky. Although we recycle as much heat as possible, and insulate everything to prevent waste, it uses a lot of energy. As a point of comparison, our annual energy requirements could power the equivalent of 797 homes; our boiler has a capacity of 4MW, compared to the 6 kW 11kW or 13 kW you might have for heating in your home.  

As an industry there has been a heavy reliance on Medium Fuel Oil (MFO) to power distilleries. This is a refined fuel that is used in a furnace or boiler to generate heat or in anengineto generate power. At Bruichladdich it runs the boiler. 

To achieve our 2025 of decarbonising the distillation process (within Scope 1 and 2), we must find a cleaner alternative and earlier this summer, we switched to a different oil – Furnace Flame. It still comes from a refinery but is cleaner than a MFO and emits 5% less CO2.  

We are also looking at electrification; we’ve changed our arrangements so that we can guarantee that the 16,000 kWh of electricity we use across all functions of the site each year is coming from renewable sources. 

Many newly built distilleries in Scotland are setting up with green technology at the heart of their business. Being ‘born green’ means finding a technology up front, finding the funding for it and living with the challenges of its continued use. At Brucihladdich, we’re adapting a 19th century set-up but neither is necessarily easier than the other. A different set of challenges still requires the same motivation and rigour to find solutions that work for each distillery individually.

At Bruichladdich, we are retofitting our Victorian distillery for the future and reimaging our museum-like distillery. We have to find solutions that will work with what we have, as the character of our product is closely connected to our manual process and our old equipment.


Natural Resources and Renewables   

Renewable and sustainable forms of energy like wind power, solar power, biomass fuels could also play a part in the mixture of solutions we need for the whole distillery. We’ve been finding out a lot about tidal initiatives, but aren’t able to count on them. Generation aside, there are problems with distribution of this power, getting them into the grid. And there are problems with storing it. Batteries are expensive, they are massive, and they use valuable resources like rare minerals.  

We also cannot ignore that we are on an island, without easy access to some of the energy infrastructure available on the mainland. We’re conscious that on an island of nine distilleries and counting, we need to look at all-island solutions and work together to overcome the barriers of cost, infrastructure, non-disclosure agreements in place for early adoption of tech in order to share and pool our knowledge and resources.  

Broad horizons 

Off this island, industry-wide collaboration on decarbonisation is necessary. The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) has a Sustainability Strategy target of achieving net-zero emissions by 2040. New research published in July by Heriot-Watt University, funded by the UK Government’s Greener Distilleries scheme, sets out a roadmap to net zero which aims to help distillers identify the best combination of renewable energy generation methods.  

Overarching global ambitions like the Paris Accord will have to come down to a granular, local level, whether that’s with transport, roads, planning law, investment subsidy or partnership agreements. And we’re spirit experts, not energy experts.  

Bruichladdich CEO Douglas Taylor sums it up: “We’re not limited in our thinking but we have to be pragmatic about the limits in implementation. There isn’t one obvious solution for us, or for everyone.  

Because we are thinking big we are coming up against the realities of what we can do as a single business. We actively participate in collective discussions and debate, sharing ideas. We would favour all-island solutions, spreading the benefits further into our island microcosm. We are committed, we are making time for it while doing everything else required within the lifecycle of the business. We just have to be patient, and keep our stamina, and tolerance.”  


Hopes for hydrogen  

In January Bruichladdich was awarded funding for a feasibility study on incorporating hydrogen combustion technology at Bruichladdich. And now, thanks to this £2.65m grant, we can look to make this research a reality. The DCC (Dynamic Combustion Chamber) is essentially a hydrogen boiler which produces heat, that will in turn produce steam. The technology is particularly innovative because it does not require a smokestack or any other energy dissipating exhaust, eliminating any emissions of CO2, NOx and SOx. The only by-product of the reaction is water that can be recycled.

Douglas Taylor, CEO of Bruichladdich Distillery, said: “Sustainability is in our DNA and is at the heart of everything we do. Many distilleries across Scotland are making serious steps forward in decarbonising their energy requirements, and we fully believe that hydrogen has a future in the Scotch industry. Our hope is that our proof of concept can extend to uptake across the island and beyond, helping us hit the Scotch Whisky Association’s targets of net zero by 2040.”

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