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A Wee Dram For Your Car

nunswithcarOk, so it’s St Patrick’s Day, so I’ll put this post in green text and will kick off with a wee story…

Two nuns were driving along a remote rural road in County Mayo in northeastern Ireland when they ran out of fuel.  They walked to a nearby farmhouse and explained their plight to the farmer.  “To be sure, sisters, I can give you a bit of petrol so it’s off on your good works you can be driving.  But I’ve only the one jerry can, so the only thing I can give you to carry it back to your car in is this old whiskey bottle.” “Bless you, Patrick, and thank you,” said the nuns.  They walked back to their car clutching their whisky bottle full of petrol.  As they were pouring the petrol from the whisky bottle into the fuel tank, Sean O’Reilly drove by.  Spotting the whiskey bottle, Sean shook his head and stared.  “Begorrah, that’s what I call faith!” he said.

We chuckle about that one (or the alternative version where the farmer lends them a chamber pot) but the story can be killed stone dead if one remembers that alcohol is indeed one of the more common alternative fuels is alcohol – ethanol, methanol, butanol and propanol are good fuels.  You’d never bother setting that story about the nuns in Brazil – over there, they have cars (often the locally produced VWs) that are designed for flex fuel – they run on petrol, alcohol or a mixture of the above.  And we’re not too bad for the old ethanol in Australia ourselves.

And now the UK and Ireland are getting in on the act.  A whisky distillery in Edinburgh, Scotland, has just announced that they have successfully produced a butanol blend that can be used on its own or blended with diesel or (better still from a sustainability perspective) biodiesel. They use waste products from the process of distilling whisky – an industry that’s quite large in Scotland, as you might imagine.

The waste products in question go by names that are anything but long bits of Latin and Greek: draff and pot ale.  Draff is the malted barley left over after the initial brewing process (lovers of craft beer and home brewers of beer will know what I’m talking about here).  Pot ale, on the other hand, is the leftover liquid after the whisky has been distilled out of the original brew of fermented grain (something that resembles beer or ale but without the hops).  These two products are mixed to create a blend given the traditional name “broth” (isn’t it nice to see a scientific product that doesn’t feel compelled to use long and complicated names but just uses something with Anglo-Saxon or Celtic origins?).  This broth goes through its own distilling process to produce the biobutanol.

The plant, which has hefty backing from the Scottish government and the UK government (let’s just not go into the politics of Scotland here, OK?), hopes to be up and running fully in 2016.  Because butanol delivers plenty of oomph, there’s a chance that it won’t be appearing at British bowsers at this stage: as it’s suitable as jet fuel, the aviation market might snap plenty of it up.  However, the potential is there to produce lots of biobutanol, as the UK doesn’t just have whisky distilleries to draw on as a source of draff and pot ale: there’s the beer brewing industry and other sorts of distillery to draw on as well.

Lastly, for the clever readers who’ve spotted the two different spellings of whisky/whiskey:  “whiskey” is for the Irish version; “whisky” is the Scottish variety). 

Safe and happy driving as well as happy St Patrick’s Day,



  1. Tom says:

    Next thing you will try and take the piss out of me.good luck

    March 27th, 2015 at 8:16 pm