Raise a glass to net zero whisky

Raise a glass to net zero whisky
08 June 2020

Balmenach, Caol Ila, Glenfarclas. Scotch whisky is full of wonderful and expressive words. Just hearing the name of a distillery we picture sweeping heather moorland, tumbling clear streams and characterful old buildings braced for rain. Whisky’s long tradition, and quite a bit of clever branding, mean most of us have a strong sense of its identity. It is a product of its place and custodian of a pristine environment.  

Jura distillery
All of which makes ambitious climate change action a natural fit. The industry is keen to strengthen its existing environmental goals and to support Scotland’s commitment to net zero emissions by 2045.

Ricardo has been working with the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), the trade organisation that promotes and protects the industry, and its members to explore pathways to net zero emissions whisky production. 

Achieving net zero requires deep reductions in emissions, with any remaining sources offset by removals of CO2 from the atmosphere. Net emissions, after accounting for removals, must be reduced by 100%. Zero means zero.

As a result, hard to decarbonise emissions can’t be avoided and must be confronted head on. Lighting and space heating are important, yes. But our focus was on a complete switch over to zero carbon technologies for distillation. In a pathway to 2045, our heat engineers needed to evaluate replacement technologies coming to end of life now, such as anaerobic digestion, heat pumps and electric boilers, as well as assessing the opportunities from technologies being developed over the coming years, such as hydrogen and combined heat and power with carbon capture and storage.

Our engineering team and carbon management experts examined energy use and emissions at over 120 Scotch whisky sites across Scotland. We looked at how this might evolve over the coming decades, and asked ourselves the question, what technologies can close the gap to net zero? 

We modelled seven technology scenarios to identify pathways to net zero in 2045, consulting with the sector to bring them on the net zero journey and validate our assessment of what is possible. We looked at how sustained energy efficiency improvements with anaerobic digestion, biomass, hydrogen & high temperature heat pumps could be deployed across the industry. 

For example, forecasting the ‘Balanced’ scenario mix of technologies using Ricardo’s Net Zero Gap Analysis tool at conservative rates and to reach net zero in 2045 (aligning with the Scottish Government’s ambitious targets).
Ricardo's net zero gap analysis tool: balanced scenario emissions projections
 Ricardo's net zero gap analysis tool: balanced scenario - emissions reduction by measure
This pathway garnered the support of SWA members and was viewed as a credible pathway to net zero. This poses interesting questions to be answered by governments and regulators. To deliver net zero requires incentives to increase uptake of hydrogen and considerations of alternative uses for whisky by products and other decisions at a policy level.

Our analysis found that there are a range of credible pathways to net zero, making use of each technology to varying degrees within their maximum technical potential. To the credit of the SWA and its members, they are up for the challenge. 

The option to deploy multiple technologies provides important flexibility to SWA members, with each site able to use the technology most suited to their operations and constraints. At sector level, it means that the changing viability of one technology could be compensated for by another. We are now supporting distilleries to re-evaluate imminent investment decisions in decarbonisation of heat and local supply of power to ensure decisions made align with the long-term net zero strategy for the sector.

With COP26 Glasgow, now scheduled for November 2021, and government promising a green recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, there has never been a better time for the government to support Scotch Whisky’s net zero ambitions.

The Scotch Whisky Association’s Director of Industry, Dagmar Droogsma, said 

"Ricardo has assisted the SWA in assessing what the transition to net zero means to the Scotch Whisky industry. This work is helping to inform us with the review of the sector’s wide-reaching Environmental Strategy. It has been valuable to demonstrate the recommended steps the sector can take to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the support that is needed from governments and regulators to take these steps"

So, here’s to a dram of zero carbon whisky.