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Prof Tangney at the RIA for Institute Public Lecture Series

Publication Date: 01 April, 2014


Professor Martin Tangney presents “Biofuels and whiskey – one for the road”

12th March 2014, RIA

Professor Martin Tangney, internationally recognised expert in microbial biofuel production, gave an entertaining and inspiring seminar at the Royal Irish Academy on 12th March as part of the UCD Earth Institute’s public seminar series. Emphasising the developments that can arise from the interaction of industry, academia and policy, he told the story of his development of the Biofuel Research Centre (BfRC) in Napier University, Edinburgh – the UK’s first centre dedicated to the development of sustainable biofuel. Tangney believes this Centre is an example of what can be accomplished with commitment and interest from the very top of the policy system, pointing out that the support of Alex Salmond (Scotland’s First Minister) was extremely beneficial during the development phase of the Centre. Scotland as a whole has set ambitious targets for sourcing renewable energy by 2020 and there is real political will there to achieve these targets, translating into political support for innovative approaches such as the Biofuel Research Centre.

At a time when there is an international desire to reduce carbon emissions and a global need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuel, the world's transport fleet is actually increasing and is expected to double within the next 20 years. This has led to a race to internationalise biofuels but with numerous different types of biofuel under development, and some considerable debate over the ethics of exploiting arable land for fuel crops, the issue of biofuel is clouded with uncertainty. In his lecture Martin Tangney discussed the development of biofuels and alternative sources for them as well as addressing the concept of sustainable biofuels in the context of his own internationally acclaimed process for producing biobutanol as an advanced biofuel from the residues of Scotland’s iconic £4-billion malt whisky industry. He highlighted the way in which everything used in the distilling process could actually be re-cycled and used to either generate energy or for feeding cattle, or for some other purpose. When he started looking at the industry only a tiny proportion of the output of the distilling process was the whiskey itself – the rest was draff or pot-ale or waste but since then, the BfRC has found a way of using each of these other elements to reduce dependence on fossil fuels in a way that is sustainable in the long-term.

In 2012 Professor Tangney received the prestigious Institute for Chemical Engineers International Award of “Innovator of the Year” for this process – an innovation he is now commercialising as the founder of Celtic Renewables Ltd. He launched Hong Kong’s first recycling to biofuel campaign and in 2013 he devised an international agreement on renewable energy and waste management between Scotland and Hong Kong, where he leads on biofuel development. Originally from Cork and educated in UCC, he is now turning his attention back to Ireland and hopes to be able to use his story to influence policy-makers here and encourage re-evaluation of bio-fuel as an energy resource.