UK GIB invests in whisky distillery biomass plants


The UK Green Investment Bank (GIB) has announced new funding for Scottish whisky distilleries to improve sustainability.

The £5 million investment is being made by the Equitix-managed fund, Energy Saving Investments (ESI), in which GIB is the cornerstone investor, alongside the Equitix Energy Efficiency Fund (EEEF).

It will be used to help Scottish distilleries replace fuel oil boilers with biomass boilers. While half of the funding will be provided by GIB, the private sector will match the investment to cover the installation costs.

The new boilers, necessary for producing steam used in several parts of the whisky production process, will replace the existing inefficient, heavy fuel oil boilers.

Commenting on the funding, Rob Cormie, Group Operations Director, UK Green Investment Bank, said: "Projects like this can help distilleries to save money and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. I would encourage other distilleries to install a biomass boiler or other energy saving technology - an investment to make long-term savings and to help to meet the industry's ambitious green targets.

“Our 'spend to save' model means that companies don't need to find the capital up-front and can start saving money from day one."

Business Secretary Vince Cable welcomed the announcement, saying: “This investment in one of Scotland's most important industries will help secure jobs, support the local supply chain and become more energy efficient.

"Through our industrial strategy we are working in partnership with business to give companies the confidence to invest, securing green jobs and a stronger UK economy."

As a result of the funding, GIB suggests that distilleries will see both economic and environmental benefits. Indeed, GIB has said that following a simliar investment at Tomatin distillery in Inverness last year, the facility’s greenhouse gas emissions are on track to be reduced by approximately 80 per cent.

Aberfeldy Distillery first project to be funded

The first distillery to receive the biomass funding will be the Aberfeldy Distillery in Perthshire, owned by Bacardi.

Funded in partnership with biomass company Balcas Limited (Balcas), the boilers will use‘sustainably-sourced wood pellet fuel’ manufactured by Balcas to produce steam for its operations.

According to the company, the pellets are made using ‘renewable energy and raw materials sourced from local, sustainably managed forests’ at its plant in Invergordon.

It is hoped the project could reduce the distillery's carbon footprint by up to 90 per cent (5,000 tonnes), by replacing 100 per cent of the heat currently generated from fuel oil.

Stuart Lowthian, Global Technical Director, of Bacardi said: "We are excited to be implementing a sustainable energy solution for our Aberfeldy distillery which will reduce our carbon footprint by around 90 per cent.

“This will be our second investment in biomass solutions for energy generation in the UK. The first was in our Bombay Sapphire gin distillery at Laverstoke Mill and we will be following up with a similar biomass investment in our tequila distillery in Mexico later this year.

“These investments underline our "Good Spirited" global sustainability initiative to work with partners to build a sustainable future.”

Engineering and installation works will commence at Aberfeldy Distillery ‘immediately’, with the boiler expected to be up and running ‘by the end of 2014’.

Biomass in the UK

Plant biomass combustion accounted for 18.3 per cent of the UK’s renewable energy in 2012, and DECC’s ‘Renewables Roadmap’ estimates that by 2020, biomass could potentially provide between 26 and 42 per cent of renewable energy in the UK, but there are worries the government could be too dependent on biomass to reach its statutory target of generating 15 per cent of the UK’s energy from renewable sources by 2020.

Indeed, a 2012 report from the RSPB, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace warned that producing power through certain types of biomass combustion can be ‘dirtier than coal’.

Read more about UK GIB’s investments in biomass.