Distillery Reduces Emissions Using Whisky-Drinking Oysters

A whisky distiller near Tain in the Scottish highlands is conducting an environmental project to clean up the wastewater it discharges into the Dornoch Firth. Commendably, the Glenmorangie distillery has reintroduced oysters after their population dwindled in this inlet off the North Sea during the 1990s.

In news interviews, the company’s Director of Corporate Social Responsibility, Hamish Torrie, described the oyster project. Remarkably, just one of the molluscs can filter up to two hundred litres – approximately forty-four gallons – of water every day. This sheer volume of oysters’ digestive throughput makes them ideal for purifying the wastewater output from whisky washbacks and spirit stills.

Natural digestion

Scientists from Edinburgh’s respected Heriot-Watt University have lent their support to the scheme. Speaking on behalf of the public research faculty, Professor Bill Sanderson highlighted how oysters’ rudimentary digestive systems work.

Settled in their underwater environment, oysters imbibe the wastewater as it flows out of the pipe from the nearby distillery. The liquid might contain organic cereal-based content from barley in the mash tuns, at times with low alcohol concentrations. After extracting digestible nutrients, they excrete the remainder as solid particles that fall to the sea bed.

Carbon reduction

Professor Sanderson’s team of investigators has discovered that the carbon content of seabed matter around the oyster beds is three times higher than previous levels. Also, tell-tale white calcium carbonate deposits build up on the oysters’ black shells, thus locking away carbon as a harmless, solid compound.

Because the oysters’ presence appears to purify the water and store carbon, their contribution to the environment could be significant. Experts associated with the project hope that the results will reduce gaseous emissions and the greenhouse effect, notorious for its links with global warming and climate change.

Future plans

Situated in the county of Ross and about 36 miles north of Inverness, the Glenmorangie Distillery initiated the project in 2017 when it introduced three hundred oysters to the adjacent coastal waters. Thanks to a healthy supply of nutrients and nature taking its course, the molluscs multiplied at a healthy rate. In summer 2021, estimates gauged the local oyster population at more than 20,000.

Looking ahead, distillery bosses plan to site some four million molluscs in the Firth to continue filtering waste, storing carbon and ensuring the clarity of the waters. However, as the oysters live in a protected site, their removal is illegal. So, luckily for the tiny creatures, they are unlikely to end up on dinner plates.

Benefits for the environment

The scientific community is watching the progress of the Dornoch Environmental Enhancement Project with interest. If it succeeds, whisky distilleries might team up with marine scientists to develop a straightforward yet highly effective idea. Humorously labelled as whisky-drinking oysters, the molluscs could deliver benefits elsewhere throughout Europe.