Scotch Whiskey, a Chemist, and the Birth of a New Industry

Martin Tangney, the founder of Scotland's Celtic Renewables (as in biobutanol), is an unlikely entrepreneur. As a trained academic researcher, after work he likes a sip of good Scotch as much as the next man, but he's also created a potential industry by successfully converting distillery waste into biobutanol -- an alcohol similar to ethanol but containing much more energy. How?

The simple answer is that he found a lot of waste, and hundreds of thousands of tons of free ingredients. Typically, after distillation, when the high-grade alcohol has been removed from the vat, two byproducts remain: draff, a sludge of barley grains, and pot ale, which is a liquid. Together, they represent about 90 percent of the total ingredients. Since the Scotch industry currently produces 551,156 tons of draff and 422.7 million gallons of pot ale a year, and after selling about half the draff as cattle and pig feed, he has a lot of free feedstock to work with.

But before Tangney got his project off the ground in 2010, he had to learn to become an entrepreneur, not just a scientist. In his Ted Talk he explains that the most important skill he learned - already familiar to AIChE members - was to become a relentless networker. Ultimately, he attributes Celtic Renewable's current success to the vast network of researchers, scientific knowledge and influence he doggedly built one introduction at a time.

How important is networking for you?

Images: Celtic Renewables