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Government pushes distilleries to go green with £10m fund

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The government has announced a £10m fund to assist UK distilleries with transitions to low-carbon fuels, such as hydrogen and biomass.

According to government figures, spirits make up 21 per cent of all UK food and drink exports. The spirits sector is valued at more than £8bn and growing rapidly (by 20 per cent in 2019), with the majority of revenue accounted for by Scotch whisky.

The production of Scotch is around seven times more energy-intensive than that of gin, and directly produced around 530,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2018 alone. The majority of these emissions are associated with the generation of heat for the distillation process, which accounts for 83 per cent of the distillation industry’s fuel consumption. The industry is mostly fuelled by natural gas.

The Chancellor’s 2020 budget marked the announcement of funding for the “Green Distilleries” competition to help UK distilleries reduce their carbon footprint, in line with the legally-binding national target of net zero by 2050. The scheme has now opened, meaning that distilleries may register their interest in bidding for phase 1 funding.

In the first phase, up to £75,000 will be awarded per project to develop detailed designs and development plans for fuel-switching technologies. In phase 2, more funding will be available for distilleries to pilot key components and further develop the design of their new fuel-switching solutions.

Overall, £10m will be available to help UK distilleries make the switch to low-carbon energy sources such as hydrogen, biomass, and repurposed waste. The government claims that this funding will enable emissions to be cut by almost one million tonnes of CO2 every year (equivalent to taking 100,000 cars off the road).

“Our plan to deliver a carbon-neutral future doesn’t just mean new jobs in new industries but helping some of our oldest industries to play their part as well,” said Kwasi Kwarteng, the minister for energy and clean growth. “We want to harness the tremendous innovation of our distilleries so customers can enjoy their favourite tipple in the knowledge they are helping us to tackle climate change.

The funding was generally welcomed by the spirits industry. Michael Bell, executive director of the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association said that greening is “essential” to the industry’s future.

Dagmar Droogsma, director of industry at the Scotch Whisky Association, commented: “The Scotch whisky industry welcomed the new green distilling fund announced in the March budget as an important step on our sustainability journey. The use of innovative technology is among several approaches that the industry could adopt as it works towards net zero by 2045, as outlined in our recent net zero report.”

“This fund will provide us with the opportunity to put forward bids for demonstration projects for so-far untested technologies, helping the Scotch whisky industry play its part in reaching Scotland’s emissions targets.”

In 2015, a Scottish biofuel expert established a company, Celtic Renewables, which is the first to produce biofuel from the by-products of the Scotch whisky industry.

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