Net Zero Whisky? Bruichladdich’s Mission to Reduce Emissions

Islay, the idyllic Hebridean island, is famed for its craft distillers and malt whiskies. Ironically, this beautiful spot may have the highest per capita CO2 emissions of any Scottish community; its nine distilleries burn 15m litres of oil each year. Like many of its neighbouring distilleries, Bruichladdich relies on fuel oil, brought in on diesel-powered ferries to fire the boilers.

“What you have to do is start with what you can control”- Douglas Taylor, Bruichladdich’s chief executive. 

Bruichladdich has challenged itself to pioneer a net-zero distillation process by 2025; aiming to replace the conventional method, which uses natural gas and creates CO2 in the process, with an innovative type of green hydrogen production using green electricity and water electrolysis. While this is dependent on a green tariff, Bruichladdich plans to use renewables such as wind installed around the island over the next few years.

Hydrogen marks a considerable aspect of Bruichladdich’s shift towards self-sufficiency and sustainability: they are the first Scottish distillery to achieve B Corp Status, a corporate ethics designation intended to balance “purpose with profit”. Designed by London-based energy firm Protium, Bruichladdich’s hydrogen technique has received £74,000 in development funding from the UK government. 

Taylor believes this technique has the potential to transform the island, helping power its other distilleries, businesses and homes; “We’re trying to pioneer something for a wider island benefit. We’re very much supportive of the idea that whatever we look at, could then be taken up by other distilleries but also other businesses on the island, and the community”.

Several Distilleries Are Now Taking Measures to Reduce Their Emissions

Such challenges are not limited to Bruichladdich; Scotland’s largest distilleries are dependent on burning gas, and more remote areas are dependent on fuel oil. A zero net target date of 2040 has been set, preceding the UK government’s goal by 10 years and Scotland’s by 5. 

Several distilleries are now taking measures to reduce their emissions; installing biomass boilers, more efficient gas boilers to replace fuel oils and making the switch to anaerobic digestion; utilising their own whisky- production by-product, draff.

To name one example, the boutique distillery Nc’Nean has invested in an expensive biomass boiler fuelled by woodchip from a commercial forest plantation nearby. The organic whisky operation established in Argyll four years ago was recently certified as the UK’s first net zero whisky distillery.

“I feel all businesses have a responsibility to do what they can to mitigate the climate crisis we are all facing. I think if you start a new distillery, it’s pretty inexcusable to do anything other than try and use renewable energy,” said Annabel Thomas, Nc’Nean’s founder.