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The spirit of innovation: £3.6m whisky trial for energy ‘game changer’

29/06/2023

A TEAM behind new thermal energy storage technology that could help replace fossil fuels has been awarded £3.6 million by the Department for Energy Security & Net Zero for a trial at a whisky distillery in Scotland. 

New University of Edinburgh spinout Exergy3 has developed a “decarbonisation machine” that the team says can replace up to 100 per cent of the fossil fuels currently used in high temperature industrial processes. 

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A demonstration machine will be installed at the Annandale Distillery in Dumfries and Galloway and used to produce a carbon-neutral whisky.  

Currently, around half of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide come from high temperature processes, used in many industries from food and drink to district heating networks and combined heat and power plants. 

Exergy3’s modular energy storage system instead takes excess renewable energy from the National Grid and stores it at temperatures of up to 1200C with minimal energy losses. 

The team says their technology can store up to 36 MWh of thermal energy on the relatively small footprint of a 40-foot shipping container, and can also be easily transported and installed on site. 

Exergy3 was awarded funding from the UK Government’s £55m Industrial Fuel Switching Competition, as part of the £1bn Net Zero Innovation Portfolio (NZIP), for the distillery trial.

The technology was invented by Dr Adam Robinson of the University’s School of Engineering, now chief technology officer at the spinout. The team has been supported to spin out and access funding by the University of Edinburgh’s commercialisation service, Edinburgh Innovations, and has received £400,000 investment from Scottish Enterprise in addition to £200,000 from the agency’s High Growth Spin Out Programme.  

Chief executive officer Dr Markus Rondé, who was formerly Dr Robinson’s teaching assistant, said:

“We are very excited about the potential applications of this technology, from process heat provision for large-scale industry to decarbonising buildings through residential heating networks. 

“Our system charges quickly, can store more energy at higher temperatures than other systems, with less thermal energy loss, and is easily transported and installed with minor disruption of the user’s site. 

“In my view, this technology is a game changer in the race to net zero, as we believe that we will be able to offer a commercially viable pathway to decarbonisation to industrial energy users within the next few years.” 

Professor David Thomson, co-owner of Annandale Distillery said:

“Our distillery is on a journey towards net zero. Being able to raise all of the steam we need via green electricity would be a massive step forward for us, and for the Scotch whisky industry as a whole. We look forward to partnering with Exergy3 on delivering this really important project.” 

Dr John Lonsdale, Head of Enterprise at Edinburgh Innovations, said:

“This is a fantastic example of research being taken out of the University, with the support of the University, Scottish and UK innovation ecosystem, to help meet a real-world challenge – in this case, sustainable energy provision. We look forward to continuing to support Exergy3 on their energy storage journey.”

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