Whilst the whisky distilling process has changed very little since Inver House Distillers’ Knockdhu distillery was founded in the North East Highlands in 1894, the financial and environmental costs of producing the spirit today have changed immeasurably.
Meeting sustainability targets affects production-focused businesses across a wide range of sectors and energy consumption continues to represent a significant proportion of a distiller’s operating costs.
The industry has been nimble in its efforts to meet Government targets, by setting its own tough environmental requirements and incentive schemes, as well as developing a series of energy assessment resources such as The Scotch Whisky Association’s 2012 Renewables Tool. Innovation and investment in distillery by-product schemes has also been widely adopted across the industry.
Typically founded around natural spring sources, many distilleries are located in remote parts of the country, away from the gas grid and therefore rely on costly fuel oil as an energy source. LPG is the cleanest, most cost effective, off mains fossil fuel and perfect for commercial heating and commercial boilers, offering considerable economic and environmental advantages.
So when Knockdhu distillery manager Gordon Bruce took a look at his site’s energy use as part of the business’ ongoing commitment to sustainability, he enlisted the help of Flogas Britain’s Energy Services team. And by switching to Flogas LPG from heavy fuel oil, Gordon has been able to substantially improve efficiency, making considerable energy reduction savings through enhanced heat recovery and changes to the plant operation. The combination of a new boiler, enhanced heat recovery and the switch to LPG has ultimately led to significant annual savings to the distillery’s fuel costs, and has cut carbon emissions by 18%.
The new Flogas system combines with a host of energy saving and heat recovery improvements made at the distillery over the last few years, meaning that it now produces whisky using almost 35% less energy per litre than it did in 2006.
The distillery now operates using a shell and tube condensing system to try to extract as much heat energy as possible during both the condensing and cooling phases. Unlike standard condensing systems, Knockdhu uses a horizontally mounted system which is fed with hot water from the wort cooler as opposed to a cold spring supply, with the pre-existing worm coil retained to pick up any stray alcohol vapour.
This system extracts as much heat energy as possible; energy which historically, was simply wasted. Now the heat is converted into other sections of the system and used as a preheating tool.
The business has also further extended its commitment to sustainability by developing wetlands adjacent to the distillery to maximise usage of the washing waters and spent lees.
Including six separate cells, the wetlands have a surface area of 2000m2 and are home to just under 21,000 plants comprising 17 different species. The system, which has full support and a license from SEPA, works entirely on gravity. Eight to 10 bulk tanks, with a 25,000 litre capacity each, are taken off the road weekly resulting in a carbon reduction of approximately 40 tonnes per annum.
Rob McCord, head of national accounts at Flogas Britain explains:
“Many distillers and brewers are keen to address their current energy levels, but are often understandably nervous about making any capital investment into energy plant equipment when switching fuels. We pride ourselves on acting as a business partner for energy, not merely a supplier of LPG, working closely with the commercial, operational and technical teams to assess their current energy levels and future growth targets. This means that businesses like Inver House are better armed with the economic case, detailing the long-term benefits and a robust payback plan.”
Ensuring that any energy switch is quick and easy is equally commercially critical. Flogas helped the Knockdhu team with all aspects of the fuel switching process, such as planning approval and pipe work. It also funded and facilitated a temporary energy supply whilst planning approval was being secured.
The Inver House Distillers Scotch Whisky portfolio boasts five distilleries – Pulteney, Balblair, Knockdhu, Speyburn and Balmenach – each producing its own distinctive, individual single malt whisky. The Knockdhu distillery is situated in the Highlands of Scotland, on the very edge of the Speyside region in a small village called Knock.
The distillery itself was founded in 1894 after the discovery of several springs on the nearby Knock hill. Knockdhu is Gaelic for “black hill” which reflects the local geography – transformed by the weather, the heathers and other vegetation growing on the hill appear black from a distance. The resulting anCnoc product from the Knockdhu distillery is a modern light, citrus tasting single malt whisky.