Just when we thought the distillation process couldn’t get more magnificent, scientists have discovered a way to turn wastewater from the whisky industry into a sustainable fuel.
A team of researchers from Heriot-Watt University has developed materials that can turn wastewater generated in distilleries into green hydrogen. Unlike fossil fuels, green hydrogen does not produce carbon when it is burned, making it much less harmful to the environment.
Green hydrogen is not a new substance. However, it’s usually made from fresh water and the process uses a colossal 20.5 billion gallons every year.
With fresh water reserves diminishing across the planet, this is a resource we can scarcely afford to burn through at such an alarming rate, which is what marks the latest discovery that whisky wastewater could offer an eco-friendly alternative.
Dr Sudhagar Pitchaimuthu, a materials scientist at the university’s School of Engineering and Physical Sciences, offered up some details: “It takes nine kilogrammes of water to produce every one kilogramme of green hydrogen. Meanwhile, every one litre of malt whisky production creates about ten litres of residue.
“To help protect the planet, we need to reduce our use of freshwater and other natural resources. So our research focused on how to use this distillery wastewater for green hydrogen production with a simple process that removes waste materials present in the water.”
During their research, the team developed a nanoscale material, called nickel selenide, which treats the wastewater and produces similar or slightly higher quantities of green hydrogen from the water compared to freshwater.
It’s hoped the nanoparticle, which is one 10,000th the diameter of a human hair, will allow distillery wastewater to replace freshwater in the green hydrogen production process.
The research has been published in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal, Sustainable Energy & Fuels. The paper is authored by Dr Pitchaimuthu’s PhD student, Michael Walsh, who played a pivotal role in the research.
“About one billion litres of wastewater a year is produced from the distilling industry, so the potential of this process is huge,” Dr Pitchaimuthu continued.
“Using industry wastewater means we can reduce the extensive freshwater footprint associated with green hydrogen production. Our research also shows how we can use the world’s resources more sustainably to produce clean energy.”
Judging by this latest news, these are exciting times for whisky and the industry as a whole. So if you’re involved in the industry in any way, it would appear that good times are ahead!