Thinking Tech

Whisky-powered cars earn themselves a toast

Whisky-powered cars earn themselves a toast

Posting in Energy

Corn-based biofuels are just so staid, you know?

Biofuel additives like corn-based ethanol are baby steps in the alternative energy process. They're often expensive (sometimes more expensive to produce than gasoline) and are nowhere near as environmentally friendly as other alternative fuels. It's hard to get too excited about additives--except when they're made from whisky.

That's right, whisky. Scottish (where else?) researchers at Edinburgh Napier University have figured out a way to use the byproducts of their nation's most famous beverage as biofuel, capable of running in any normal engine. Like some other biofuels, no modifications to the car are needed, making it an easily adopted, if not easily made or found, alternative.

During the making of whisky (in this case likely Scotch, rather than the more freedom-loving whisky of my own nation, the glorious amber elixir that is bourbon), two main byproducts are produced. "Pot ale" is the name for the leftover liquid in the stills, and "draff" is the leftover, used-up grains. Together, the pot ale and draff can be converted into butanol.

Butanol can actually be burned in typical gas engines, but due to its higher cost and difficulty in producing, it's more likely to be added in smaller doses to regular gasoline--maybe 5% or 10%.

The great thing about this butanol is that it's created from discarded products. Pot ale and draff is normally just thrown out, so to find a legitimate purpose for the material that can also lessen our dependency on oil is a great achievement.

Just as long as nobody practices the "one for you, one for me" game at the pump.

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Dan Nosowitz

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Dan Nosowitz has written for Popular Science, Fast Company and Gizmodo. He holds a degree from McGill University in Canada. He is based in New York. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure