Bacardi executive takes up the reins at Scottish whisky to feed protein player

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

Iain Lochhead, new CEO of Horizon Proteins
Iain Lochhead, new CEO of Horizon Proteins

Related tags whisky co-products circular economy

Former Bacardi UK operations director Iain Lochhead has been appointed chief executive of Horizon Proteins, a biotech that transforms underused co-products from whisky distillation into nutrients for the aqua and animal feed industries.

In a leadership shuffle at the Edinburgh-based biotech, Nik Willoughby, cofounder of the company, exits the role of chief executive to take on the position of chief technology officer.

Horizon Proteins, a spin-out company from the Heriot-Watt University, that emerged in 2014, has patented technology that allows the recovery of protein from pot ale, the liquid remaining after the first distillation. The biotech’s main product has been tested in salmon and cleared for inclusion in commercial salmon feed.

Lochhead began providing strategic consulting to Horizon back in April last year.

Chairman of the biotech, Ian Hamilton, said the former Bacardi executive brings vast knowledge of the whisky industry that will help drive the company forward. “He was immediately excited by our technology and understood how it can revolutionise the whisky industry while at the same time bring wider sustainability benefits.”

In terms of what stage of commercial development Horizon Proteins is at, a spokesperson told this publication in December 2020 that it was 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.”

The company’s technology is, in fact, seen as a crucial element in the development of Scotland’s circular bioeconomy.

Every year, the malt whisky industry in Scotland alone produces about three billion litres of pot ale. The liquid is very challenging to dispose of, and for decades the distilling industry has been keen to develop more environmentally and economically sustainable methods to manage it.

In December last year, we reported on how Horizon was participating in the Whisky Project, an initiative being led by the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC) and funded to the tune of £315k (US$428k) in total, with £130k of a contribution from Zero Waste Scotland, aimed at helping Scotland achieve its ambition to be net zero by 2045.

The project also involves another nutrient converter, MiAlgae, which uses whisky by-products to produce omega-3 rich microalgae for use in aquaculture feed and pet food, along with BioPower Technologies, which makes flour from draff, the husk residue left from fermentation. They are collaborating with Horizon to further explore ways to extract maximum value from whisky co-products. 

Related topics R&D

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