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Today is Thursday, February 21, 2019


Not Applicable

Born in 1500 in the medieval tower house of Merchiston Castle, well heeled John Napier went on to become the father of logarithms and the decimal point to the chagrin of many a schoolboy and girl alike. It is perhaps not surprising that today a University bearing his name with a renovated Merchiston tower as its focal point bears his name.

Of late Napier University has leapt to the forefront of biotechnology, as scientists working there over the past two years have perfected a process of producing a biofuel that useable in engines without the need for any modifications. This alone makes it take its place at head of the table and more user-friendly. The project was funded by  £260,000 through the  Scottish Enterprise’s ‘Proof of Concept’ programme. Edinburgh Napier University has filed a patent for this wonder fuel in order to bring it to the market place.

The alchemy team has come up with a process of producing butanol  from by products from the production of whisky which is not only more user-friendly but also pacts thirty per cent more kick than its ethanol counterpart.

Heading the team is Martin Tangney said that, “the new biofuel is made from biological material which has been already generated,” further stating, “Theoretically it could be used on its own but you would have to find a company to distribute it.” It is therefore more likely that biofuel will be blended rather than being served as a malt to the engines it is destined to help become less polluting by adding five or ten per cent to the of the magic brew to petrol or diesel.

He said: “The EU has declared that biofuels should account for 10% of total fuel sales by 2020. We’re committed to finding new, innovative renewable energy sources. “While some energy companies are growing crops specifically to generate biofuel, we are investigating excess materials such as whisky by-products to develop them."This is a more environmentally sustainable option and potentially offers new revenue on the back of one Scotland’s biggest industries. We’ve worked with some of the country’s leading whisky producers to develop the process.”

The butanol biofuel is derived from draff and pot or burnt ale, both by products of Scotland’s water of life - "uisce beatha,” commonly known as whisky. Pot ale is the liquid left in still after the distillation process and draff, John Barleycorn’s grain that is soaked in warm water as part of the production process.

Rather ironically,  it may remove the happy glint in the eyes of livestock that for long years have been fed on both burnt ale (after drying) and draff as part of their diet particularly during the winter months. Even more paradoxically, ships engines may one day soon be burning a butanol fuel mixture. However with today’s drug and alcohol policies, those who sail in them will no longer have the pleasure in raising their glasses to toast them – well maybe just a wee dram – down the hatch and cheers!

Jim Nicoll.

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