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Developing new technology to create biofuels from whiskey distillation leftovers!

Only 10 percent of what flows out of a still is future whisky. Most of what remains is draff, the residue of the grains of barley; and pot ale, a copper-laden liquid. Scotland's distillers churn out 422.7 million gallons of pot ale and 500,000 metric tons of draff annually. Disposing of all the leftover muck hurts manufacturers' bottom lines.

"They have a major disposal problem," said Martin Tangney, Celtic Renewables founder and president.

Scotland's Tullibardine distillery annually produces 528,344 gallons of pot ale and 6,500 metric tons of draff. Disposing of it costs the company $375,000 a year. The distillery is supplying Celtic Renewables with those waste products for an ongoing pilot project that will turn the organic matter into useful industrial alcohols including biobutanol, which supporters say is superior to the world's current most popular biofuel: ethanol. The process, called ABE (for acetone-butanol-ethanol), uses the bacterium Clostridium acetobutylicum.

To produce biofuel this way is not new. The first person to isolate and put to use a strain of Clostridium acetobutylicum was Chaim Weizmann, a University of Manchester chemist. Weizmann, who used a mash-up of maize and potato as feedstock, received a patent for the process in 1915. At the time, the key product from ABE fermentation was acetone

Biobutanol has a four-carbon molecular structure and packs 25 percent more energy by volume than ethanol, and it has a lower flashpoint so it's easier to store and handle. Biobutanol can be burned directly in an internal-combustion engine, in lieu of gasoline.

Biomass for Fuel!
via Steve

Biomass fuel is derived from plants or plant-based materials not used for food or feed, and specifically called lignocellulosic biomass. When a plant is grown for food the material left over, that we can't eat, can be used to produce biofuel!

Plants can also be grown solely for use as biofuel: wheat, straw, miscanthus, switchgrass, hemp, corn, poplar, willow, sorghum, sugarcane, and bamboo.

Biomass fuel can be created from wood. Materials not suitable for building such as dead trees and wood chips can be converted to biofuel; nothing needs to be wasted. The technology to make pellets for combustion heating predates biomass for biofuel.

As an energy source, biomass can either be used directly via combustion to produce heat, or indirectly after converting it to various forms of biofuel. Conversion of biomass to biofuel can be achieved by different methods which are broadly classified into: thermal, chemical, and biochemical methods.

Biomass can be converted to other usable forms of energy like methane gas or transportation fuels like ethanol and biodiesel. Rotting garbage, and agricultural and human waste, all release methane gas—also called landfill gas or biogas.

Crops, such as corn and sugar cane, can be fermented to produce the transportation fuel, ethanol. Biodiesel, another transportation fuel, can be produced from left-over food products like vegetable oils and animal fats.

Red Rock Biofuels in Fort Collins Colorado is developing processing plants to convert woody biomass into renewable diesel and jet fuels. Sawmill waste and dead trees can become fuel. Their plan for each refinery will utilize 175,000 dry tons of woody biomass feedstock to produce 16 million gallons per year of finished products.

In 2013 an estimated 264,000 acres of trees in Colorado alone were infested by the mountain pine beetle which kills the trees. They can all be used to produce biofuel.

The process begins with the gasification of woody biomass to produce synthesis gas. This synthesis gas is cleaned and sent to a Fischer-Tropsch unit where it is converted to liquid hydrocarbons. Hydroprocessing refines the liquid hydrocarbons to produce jet, diesel, and naptha fuels. Terry Kulesa President of RRB speaking on NPR: "Everyone wants to be green, but nobody wants to pay to be green." The cost for their biofuel is a worthy alternative to current fuel sources at about 23$ per barrel.

Red Rock Biofuels recently signed a contract to supply fuel for FedEx.

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