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 an engine to 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.