Innovation in Scotland and Finland: Feed raw materials sourced from whisky and vodka production

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/ONYXprj
© GettyImages/ONYXprj

Related tags vodka whisky by-product Salmon Aquaculture

Scotland’s whisky industry and biotechnology innovators are continuing to up their game to try and find new sustainable solutions from whisky co-products such as animal feed, while a new barley based vodka from Finland sees benefits for pig farmers as well as the circular economy.

Firstly, a year-long research initiative, The Whisky Project, is being led by the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC), and is funded to the tune of £315k (US$428k) in total, with £130k of a contribution from Zero Waste Scotland.

The project, which is also receiving additional support from the Scotch Whisky Research Institute (SWRI), sees three IBioIC members, Horizon Proteins, MiAlgae and BioPower Technologies, working in unison to further explore ways to extract maximum value from whisky co-products such as draff, the husk residue left from fermentation, and pot ale, the liquid remaining after the first distillation.

Horizon Proteins already extracts proteins from whisky production to create proteins for feed for animal species such as salmon, while MiAlgae currently uses whisky by-products to produce omega-3 rich microalgae for use in aquaculture feed and pet food. 

BioPower Technologies makes flour from draff and will now investigate the use of the liquid created in the process to see if it will be a beneficial product for use by Horizon Proteins and MiAlgae. It will also see if it can expand the use of pot ale.

Mark Bustard, CEO of IBioIC, said: “This is an exciting new project with serious potential to create high value biobased products from a low value co-product. We are driving support for the growth of the bioeconomy, and this is a tremendous example of how we can add significant benefit with a circular approach to co-products. Through integrating bioprocessing with business operational processes, we can create sustainable products and reduce overall waste as we work towards achieving Scotland’s green ambition to be net zero by 2045.”

MiAlgae, Horizon Proteins and BioPower Technologies will each have access to IBioIC’s FlexBio laboratory facilities at Heriot Watt University to integrate, test, refine and evaluate commercial processes of extracting proteins and carbohydrates to maximize the value from using the same feedstock for each. FlexBio scientists will also support the companies with their work and SWRI will provide anonymized whisky co-product samples from distilleries to support the research.

In terms of what stage of commercial development the feed ingredient suppliers are at, a spokesperson told us that Horizon Proteins is in the early phases of design and construction of its first full scale pot ale processing plant, located in the Speyside area. “When operating at full capacity, this plant will have the capability to produce around 15,000 tons per annum of sustainable protein products from pot ale. Horizon Protein’s main product has been tested in salmon and cleared for inclusion in commercial salmon feed.”

MiAlgae’s bioprocess is presently at demonstration scale, with expansion plans underway and full commercialization of its algae oil product set for 2021. The company said it is positioned to significantly grow its team over the next year and is currently recruiting for an R&D lead. 

Vodka that fights climate change

Last month saw the launch of Koskenkorva Vodka Climate Action, the world’s first vodka made entirely from regeneratively farmed barley, and the first product to be developed in collaboration between Nordic drinks company, Altia, Southern Finland based, farmer, Jari Eerola, and the Baltic Sea Action Group (BSAG). Its production also results in a by-product, a barley based liquid feed for use by the pig sector.  

Altia, which operates in the wines and spirits markets in the Nordic and Baltic countries, said the vodka’s production is based on the circular economy.

“The Koskenkorva distillery has a 99.9% recycling rate and even the husks of the barley left over from vodka distillation are used to power the distillery’s own bioenergy plant. In addition to grain spirit, the Koskenkorva plant produces starch and raw materials for animal feed – and the carbon dioxide generated in the process is collected and used in greenhouse cultivation.”

As a major buyer of barley in Finland, Altia believes that one important way of reducing the company’s environmental impact is to train contract farmers in regenerative farming practices. It is working together with BSAG to have all of the company’s contract farmers trained by 2025. The barley used to make the new vodka has been farmed according to the definition of regenerative farming set out by BSAG’s Carbon Action platform.

Regenerative agriculture is a holistic cultivation method that aims to convert fields from emission sources into significant carbon sinks, mitigating climate change and protecting biodiversity. By improving soil health, these methods increase carbon sequestration in agricultural soils while also enabling better crops and mitigating land erosion, claims Altia.

Koskenkorva Vodka Climate Action will be available in early 2021.

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