Iain Gulland, chief executive of Zero Waste Scotland

An exciting new project launches this week that brings together Scotland’s most successful export industry and leading biotechnology innovators to find new sustainable solutions from whisky co-products.  The Whisky Project is led by the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC), co-funded by Zero Waste Scotland, and with additional support from the Scotch Whisky Research Institute (SWRI), the industry’s leading research organisation. 

Three IBioIC member companies, Horizon Proteins, MiAlgae and BioPower Technologies, will work collaboratively on the sustainability-driven project with IBioIC to explore further ways to extract maximum value from whisky co-products such as draff, the husk residue left from fermentation, and pot ale, the liquid remaining after the first distillation.

Mark Bustard,  CEO,  IBioIC, said:  “This is an exciting new project with serious potential to create high-value biobased products from a low-value co-product.  We are driving support for the growth of the bioeconomy, and this is a tremendous example of how we can add significant benefit with a circular approach to co-products. The whisky co-product valorisation project will demonstrate how innovation through collaboration can lead to a high value, commercial, and environmental result. Through integrating bioprocessing with business operational processes, we can create sustainable products and reduce overall waste as we work towards achieving Scotland’s green ambition to be net-zero by 2045.”

Ian Gulland, chief executive, Zero Waste Scotland said“Finding increased value from the materials and by-products we already have is a key principle of the circular economy. The organisations involved in the Whisky Project are innovative and forward-thinking, and show how we can do so much more by thinking differently. It is fantastic that we can use such an iconic Scottish product to lead the way in developing a way of working that could act as an inspiration for industries all over the globe. The greatest impact we can have in reducing our carbon footprint is reducing the volume of material we consume, and biobased products could play a significant role in achieving this.”

The project requires each IBioIC member company to carry out extensive research into alternative uses for the co-products from the whisky manufacturing process.

MiAlgae, Horizon Proteins and BioPower Technologies will each have access to IBioIC’s FlexBio laboratory facilities at  Heriot Watt University to integrate, test, refine and evaluate commercial processes of extracting proteins and carbohydrates to maximise the value from using the same feedstock for each.  FlexBio scientists will also support the companies with their work and SWRI will provide anonymised whisky co-product samples from distilleries to support the processes and trials.

Commenting on the project, James Brosnan, Director, at SWRI said: “This project will help the Scotch Whisky Industry to achieve its sustainability goals by providing practical, economically viable end-uses for co-products. We particularly like how the project brings together Horizon Proteins, MiAlgae, and Biopower, who individually have already demonstrated the potential of their respective technologies to the whisky sector, to work together to find mutually beneficial, integrated solutions.”  

The whisky industry has made significant progress over the past decade in reducing co-products, creating sustainable supply chains and processes.  All of the biotechnology experts taking part in the year-long research project have been successful in using biotechnology and co-products from the whisky industry in their own right:

Horizon Proteins – already extracts proteins from whisky by-products to create animal feed.

MiAlgae –currently uses whisky by-products to grow Omega-3 rich micro-algae to feed salmon. 

BioPower Technologies, currently makes flour from draff, and will now investigate the use of the liquid created in the process to see if it will be a beneficial product for use by Horizon Proteins and MiAlgae. BioPower will also carry out new investigations into the use of pot ale.  

This new collaborative project will further enhance and develop efforts to contribute to the growth of the circular economy in Scotland .