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Whisky distilleries take their turn in the emissions legislation queue

960 640 Stuart O'Brien

As the battle to improve air quality goes on, the UK has been rolling out the EU’s Medium Combustion Plant Directive to curb harmful emissions. So, what are the implications of this legislation for medium sized businesses in the UK? 

Over one hundred million cases of Scottish whisky are distributed across the world every year. The growth in the industry and the volume of production has seen distilleries in the UK become increasingly reliant on the use of energy to ensure their businesses can keep up with demand.

The method of production has barely changed for centuries. But, as the industry begins to switch to more sustainable practices, a shift in the energy sources used to power the distilleries is taking place.

Governmental legislation around environmental protection is also driving change, with the implementation of enforceable targets. The most relevant one to the production of whisky is the Medium Combustion Plants Directive (MCPD).

The legislation explained

The purpose of the MCPD is to limit harmful emissions being pumped into the atmosphere from boilers and other stationary combustion plants in the 1-50 MWth (thermal megawatt) range. 

MCPD will regulate the concentration levels of sulphur dioxide (SO2), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), and particulate matter (PM) within process exhaust gases, as well as implementing ways to monitor emissions of carbon monoxide (CO). The limits on the levels these plants can emit depend on their type, size, age, fuel selection and operating hours.

It’s estimated that, when fully implemented, these limits will provide a 24% reduction in SO2 and 9% reduction in NOx emission targets

Made law in 2017, the MCPD regulation covers all fuel types and sets out specific Emission Limit Values (ELVs) most plants must meet by 2025. It also means that all new-build production facilities need a permit before commencing operations.

Existing plants may not require permits and testing right now, but companies are starting to realise the benefits of converting their combustion energy sources. 

The implications for distilleries

Whisky distilleries need a consistent and uninterrupted energy supply.  A review conducted by the research team at Energy Voice, estimated that Scotland’s 122 distilleries consume almost the same amount of energy each year as 250,000 British households.

Most Scottish whisky producers are in remote regions off the national energy grid.  For this reason, alternative fuel options must come with reliability of supply, in addition to cost and environmental benefits. Distillers are switching from oil to gas, in the form of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) or liquefied natural gas (LNG).

Tamnavulin makes the switch                                                                                              

Tamnavulin distillery, owned by Whyte & Mackay, made the decision to switch to a more cost-effective, cleaner fuel solution that is liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).

The distillery has been operational since 1966 and produces over 4 million litres of single malt whisky per year. They were keen to take advantage of fuel cost savings, but also needed to ensure guarantee of supply.  

The company’s fuel requirements were assessed, and it was determined that LPG, supplied in bulk, would meet their need to comply with legislation, and deliver significant cost savings.

LPG is a lower-carbon alternative to oil with approximately 20% lower carbon intensity. Cleaner burning, it generates less CO2, SO2, NOx and PM than oil. In addition to reducing their emission levels, a gas storage system was designed to house the bulk LPG, installing a 30T mounded gas storage tank, along with the necessary pipework. 

Tamnavulin has since benefited from a 19.7% reduction in carbon emissions, and when compared to a similar distillery operating on HFO, Tamnavulin’s SO2 levels were 767 times lower, NOx 3 times lower and PM 269 times lower.

The journey of LPG: From ground to the tank

576 384 Stuart O'Brien

One of the modern marvels of our time is our ability to have instant access to heat and power. From heating your home, to cooking on the hob, the energy we use is crucial to the daily functioning of our lives. These conveniences are typically as a result of being connected to the national gas grid, where we can have access to energy as needed.

Yet for those that live off the natural gas grid, receiving not only a reliable energy supply, but one that is kinder to the environment, can be rather more challenging. An effective solution is to harness the power of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). As the greenest conventional off-grid fossil fuel available[1], it’s quickly become a firm favourite for those in rural areas. 

But where does this alternative fuel source come from, how do we obtain it and what does the journey of LPG look like? 

From the ground up 

LPG is a by-product of natural gas and crude oil extraction and the subsequent process of oil refining[2]. To source natural gas or crude oil, we drill down hundreds of feet to pump it from the ground. But these deposits aren’t always found on land. Some sources are found offshore, deep beneath the seabed within rock formations[3] requiring highly trained geologists to locate those specific geological formations likely to contain natural gas.

The processing stage

Once pumped up from the ground, crude oil is sent to be processed at a refinery. As part of the refining process, natural gas is separated out from the oil via a complex but effective technique called “hydraulic cracking”. Once the gas is separated, it undergoes a purification process to remove any impurities and other undesirable elements so that it can be made into a safe, cleaner gas to be used in our homes. The gas is then liquified under pressure so that it can be easily transported and stored. 

Storing supply 

Once the gas has been fully processed and liquified, the LPG is transported to large terminals with vast tanks for storage. Typically, these large LPG volumes are delivered via rail tankers within the UK, or via big merchant ships – known as Very Large Gas Carriers (VLGC) – if coming from overseas. 

As demand for LPG has grown in recent years, so has the need for facilities that can store and supply large volumes of this increasingly popular fuel. 

From these huge storage terminals, LPG is then transported to smaller, regional distribution centres. Located across the UK, they are key to ensuring efficient and reliable supplies to off-grid homes and businesses. 

Bulk or cylinders?

For residential or businesses premises that have higher energy needs, LPG can be supplied by road tanker in larger quantities, with bulk storage tanks installed on-site – either above or below ground – so ensuring an on-demand flow of fuel. Thanks to modern telemetry technology, bulk storage systems can remotely monitor usage and automatically alert suppliers to deliver LPG top ups — so fuel never runs out. 

The Importance of LPG

As we move towards a lower carbon future and away from fuels such as oil and diesel, biomethane and LPG are an immediate, cleaner and greener potential option. As a clean, smoke-free burning fuel, LPG emits fewer pollutants including NOx, Sox and particulate (PM)[4], highlighting why it’s becoming an increasingly widespread part of the UK’s off-grid energy mix.

[1] UKLPG – Gas for off-grid Britain report (pg. 16)

[2] https://www.wlpga.org/about-lpg/production-distribution/

[3] https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/index.php?page=natural_gas_home

[4] SAP 2012