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£50m plan to turn whisky and farm waste into green energy

Impression of biogas plant

A £50m plan has been unveiled to build two biogas plants using by-products from whisky distilleries and farm waste.

Acorn Bioenergy, a London-headquartered firm, has identified a site near Longmorn, on the outskirts of Elgin, and another at Hill of Rathven, by Buckie.

The company said the plants will help decarbonise the area’s whisky industry and provide a new source of income for farmers, as well as heating homes, powering heavy goods vehicles and contributing to the drive for greater UK energy security. 

Acorn has approval to inject 5,000m3 of biomethane into Scotland’s gas grid to heat homes and power heavy goods vehicles.

It aims to achieve that by establishing the anaerobic digestion plants in Moray, along with others in the Highlands and Aberdeenshire, with investment of more than £100m in Scotland over the next two years.

Acorn said 15 full-time jobs will be created at each site, which it hopes will be operational by mid-2024.

Draff and pot ale by-products from whisky distilling processes will be used in five anaerobic digestion tanks at the plants.  The biomethane produced will be available as an alternative, green gas fuel supply to distilleries to help them switch from fossil fuels and achieve net-zero targets in their heating processes.

The plants will offer local farmers a long-term source of income, selling “feedstock,” such as energy crops, silages, straw and waste inputs, including manures, to be used in the biomethane production process.

As a by-product of the process, the facilities will produce supplies of digestate fertiliser for use on farms as a greener alternative to traditional fossil fuel fertilisers.

Carbon dioxide will also be produced and captured, with potential uses in a variety of sectors, including food and drink, emerging hydrogen technologies and the sustainable aviation market.

Acorn said its initial studies had shown that, once operational, the plants are expected to add just 10% to traffic movements on access routes.  The firm added that the facilities, which will not use food or domestic waste or animal by-products, will create only “minimal odour” and low levels of background noise.

The company has submitted Proposal of Application Notices (POANs) to Moray Council for both sites.  It is holding the first of two public consultation events in each area next week.

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