Irish Distillers is to invest €50 million in its Midleton Distillery over the next four years to deliver a carbon-neutral operation by the end of 2026 — one of the most ambitious decarbonisation targets adopted by an Irish manufacturing company.
It plans to eliminate scope 1 carbon emissions from its operations, and scope 2 emissions associated with energy use, in less than five years. It will be made possible by deploying a series of ground-breaking projects that will see the distillery phase out use of fossil fuels to power its operation, the company said.
The roadmap will involve reducing overall energy use by improving on-site energy generation efficiency and recycling waste heat in the distillation process. The distillery boasts three 75,000-litre pot stills — the largest currently in operation worldwide — and three column stills that are used in combination to produce different types of whiskey.
In time, its remaining energy requirements will be fulfilled by generating power from renewable sources. Irish Distillers has already invested in highly efficient boilers that require less fuel to operate. In subsequent phases it will deploy innovative mechanical vapour recompression technology, “which will see a closed looped system capture, compress and recycle waste heat in the distilling process”.
The first three phases are expected to reduce emissions by up to 70 per cent, the company said, while the final phases will see the introduction of renewable sources of energy, including green hydrogen and biogas, to power the distillery — and close the door on natural gas usage. It is to partner with EI-H2 to explore opportunities to source sustainable, renewable hydrogen.
The move to carbon neutrality follows extensive research in partnership with MaREI energy institute in UCC, to determine the biomethane potential of the byproducts of distillation and design the required anaerobic digestion process necessary to produce biogas.
Irish Distillers, which is owned by French drinks giant Pernod Ricard, has completed a mapping exercise of its carbon footprint and committed to working with suppliers on projects and initiatives to reduce scope 3 supplier emissions across all areas of its business, including raw materials, dry goods, transportation, logistics and freight.
Irish Distillers chief executive and chairman Conor McQuaid, said: “We understand our long-term future depends on reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. This plan was many years in the making, and we understand that there are many more years ahead to reach our goal.”
Enterprise Ireland chief executive Leo Clancy said supporting Irish companies to reduce their carbon footprint was a key strategic priority for the agency. “Distilling is an energy-intensive process, and Irish Distillers is committed to significantly reducing emissions and making a positive environmental impact across all areas of their business. Their plans to leverage breakthrough emissions-reducing technologies will in turn provide a blueprint for the industry and other distilleries in Ireland,” he said.
Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise Leo Varadkar congratulated Irish Distillers for its “bold and transformational change”.
“We need to take better care of our planet. Enterprise has a role to play, not just in reducing emissions that come directly from their operations, but by innovating and creating new products and ways of doing things that will help us make the changes that are needed,” he added.
With the climate crisis at a critical juncture, Irish Distillers was committed to reducing its environmental impact across its entire value chain, “and an area that we cannot ignore is how we power our distillery”, said Tommy Keane, operations director at Irish Distillers.
While technical challenges in transforming its Midleton operations to become carbon neutral were considerable, he believed “with the help and support of our partners at home and across the globe, this is possible”.