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Dr Ian Watson
ETP Bioenergy Theme Champion

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With significant forest cover biomass is an important source of energy in Scotland. ETP universities are working with industry to contribute to the development of the Bioenergy industry in Scotland to reduce CO2 emissions, add to the carbon sequestration potential, enhance rural economies and help meet renewable energy targets.

ETP expertise in Bio-Energy
Biomass production systems 

Sustainable production of biomass for bioenergy is essential to meet the low carbon agenda. ETP scientists are working on agronomy of short rotation coppice, and a range of oil seed crops suitable to grow in Scotland. Micro and macro algal crops are also being investigated. A key barrier to the biological processing of lignocellulosic crops for liquid fuels is being studied and biochemical and genetic solutions are being sought. Land use, life cycle analysis and carbon modelling are all being investigated to ensure the development and deployment of sustainable systems. 

Supply Chain 

Harvesting, transport, storage and pre-processing of biomass are key elements in the supply chain which are being studied by ETP engineers.

Thermochemical Conversion 

There is a range of thermochemical process that can use biomass as a source of fuel. Biomass can be combusted, gasified or pyrolysed to produce heat, electricity, transport fuels and even hydrogen. Key issues being addressed by ETP scientists are fuel characterization, characterization of emissions, catalytic processes to convert syngas from gasification into Fischer-Tropsch hydrocarbons. 

Physical-Chemical Conversion 

Bio diesel can be produced from crops rich in lipids such as oil seed rape or algae, or animal fats via physical extraction of the oil and then transesterification. Key issues being addressed are fuel characterization, processing the co-products and engine testing. 

Biological Conversion 

Anaerobic digestion can be utilised to breakdown organic materials such as vegetable processing co-products, seaweeds or domestic wastes in a controlled process to produce methane. The methane can be burnt directly to give heat, upgraded and injected into the gas grid or converted to hydrogen via steam reforming. All aspects are being investigated by ETP universities.

Fermentation of sugar or starch rich biomass, either from crops or co-products from the biomass processing industries can be used to produce ethanol or butanol, depending on the type of microorganisms used. 

Microbial fuel cells 

These are devices which utilize the catalytic reaction of microbes to convert chemical energy to electrical energy, i.e. the direct conversion of organic matter to electricity using bacteria. These have a range of potential applications including clean-up of contaminated water.


The scientists and engineers within ETP embrace many different disciplines to further their research and development of Bioenergy technologies:

  • Terrestrial and marine biomass production systems
  • Plant breeding
  • Chemical and materials characterisation Resource economics and land use studies Carbon and lifecycle analysis Technoeconomic analysis
  • Biochemical processing Bioengineering Thermochemical processing Catalysis
  • System design
  • Process engineering 

Bioenergy Facilities

Facilities of particular relevance to bioenergy are:


Edinburgh Napier University Scottish Energy Centre
University of Strathclyde Energy Technology Test Facilities
Energy Technology Centre

Renewable and Low Carbon Energy Test Facilities

Mechanical Test Facility - component and subsystem testing

TUV NEL Thermal Engineering Test Facility
Doosan Babcock Limited Large Scale Component Testing for Wind, Marine, Oil & Gas Structures
National Hyperbaric Centre Carbon Capture Test Facility
The Scottish Association of marine Science (SAMS) SAMS Research Services Ltd. (SRSL)- development of acoustic mapping systems


Case Study - Brathadair Ltd

The Scotch Whisky industry is one of the most productive industries in Scotland. During the production of Scotch malt whisky, a large volume of pot ale is produced. Pot ale is a concentrated liquid-solid mixture, rich in COD and nutrients, whose disposal causes significant costs. Also, pot ale contains a significant amount of copper which prevents its use as sheep feed (copper is toxic to sheep) and causes additional environmental concerns. Brathadair Ltd has been developing micro-bubble technology that can effectively separate the solid from the liquid and assist in cleaning up the waste water. Brathadair Ltd came in contact with ETP through Interface and linked to Heriot-Watt University to identify specific protein that act as surfactant. Later, the company looked for copper content in pot ale, at University of Aberdeen through ETP. Recently, they received a Kick start award from Scottish Enterprise for further development of their technology.

Case Study - Celtic Renewables

Latest news -
Celtic Renewables lands £11million grant after winning DfT competition

Celtic Renewables is the biggest winner in a competition run by the Department for Transport (DfT), earning an £11million grant to help it build the world’s first plant dedicated to the production of advanced biofuel from the residues of the whisky industry. The Edinburgh-based company is one of three advanced biofuel producers to share in a £25million funding pot.
Celtic Renewables is commercialising an innovative and patented technology, originally developed by the Biofuel Research Centre (BfRC) at Edinburgh Napier University.

Scotland’s £4 billion malt whisky industry produces more than 2 billion litres of pot ale and 600,000 tons of draff annually, which are problematic low value by-products from the whisky production process. The innovation is based on the ABE (Acetone-Butanol-Ethanol) fermentation process which uses bacteria to convert the residual sugars in the draff and pot ale into bio-butanol – a next generation biofuel – and four other high value commodities. To assist in the scale-up of this innovation from bench-top in the laboratory to pilot commercial scale, and to develop more understanding of the metabolism of the bacteria involved in the process, ETP has supported a studentship in research collaboration with Prof. Martin Tangney, Edinburgh Napier University and Celtic Renewables.

“Most countries do not have oil but all have access to biological material that can be converted into biofuels that can establish their own energy security.” Prof. Tangney, Biofuels, Whiskey and Me.

David Green joined the team at Napier University under the ETP studentship program. He is very excited about working on a research project that has a direct commercial impact and is of benefit to society as well.
"As a young research scientist it is very exciting to be at the forefront of such cutting edge research. I feel privileged to have this opportunity, I will not waste it".

David has the opportunity to work with industrial co-workers as well as two main supervisors (Prof. Martin Tangney and Dr. Eve Bird). David found that the main research challenge is bending clostridia to his and the laboratory's will; bugs will be bugs! His previous studies include optimising alcohol yields for the whisky industry and maximizing bioethanol production from waste substrates.

Mark Simmers, CEO Celtic Renewables Ltd, shared his view on receiving supports from ETP.                      

“The development of a new process technology requires a strong technical base in an organisation, and the ETP support has enabled Celtic Renewables to increase the capacity of its technical team, which will hopefully shorten the time-to-market for the technology.”



News Articles


Whisky by-product to be turned into transport fuel at new plant in Scotland.

Three companies have been awarded a share of a £25 million UK government fund to help develop greener fuel technology and boost local industry, UK Transport Minister Andrew Jones announced today (7 September 2015).

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Clearfleau, which provides on-site anaerobic digestion (AD) solutions for food and beverage companies, today announces handover of its latest bio-energy plant at Diageo’s Glendullan distillery.

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