Electric boilers fuel Diageo’s carbon-neutral whiskey distillery dream

Even whiskey is going electric. Distilleries have long been difficult operations to electrify due to the large heat loads it requires to turn grain into one of humanity’s oldest vices, alcohol. But Diageo’s new 72,000-square-foot distillery is designed to be completely carbon-neutral. According to Diageo, it should avoid more than 117,000 metric tons of annual carbon emissions by switching to renewable electricities compared to operating using a traditional natural gas facility.

“This is an opportunity to build a new distillery from the ground up,” said Andrew Jarrick, North American environmental sustainability manager at Diageo. “It’s not every day you get that opportunity.”

The Kentucky facility primarily will produce Bulleit Whiskey (Diageo also makes Guinness, Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker, Tanqueray, Bailey’s, Captain Morgan and others) and will be one of the largest carbon-neutral distilleries in North America, according to the company. The facility is under construction, with completion slated by mid-2021. Eventually, it will produce 10 million proof gallons of whiskey and employ about 30 full-time brewers.

The distilling process has three large heat requirements: first to cook the grain into mash; then as steam to capture the ethanol in a distillation column; and finally for drying the leftover grain for alternative uses.

Moving away from fossil fuels for this heat production was the first step and the first big obstacle for Diageo.

“The distillery industry is built on very traditional ways of thinking and relies very heavily on time-tested methodologies,” Jarrick said. “We want to produce the same liquid every time. The biggest challenge was to maintain that process integrity, but also move on from traditional fossil fuels.”