This is not just a project that was born in a lab and dies in a lab - this is a project that was born in Edinburgh Napier and will go in to become a global industry.
Professor Martin Tangney OBE, Founder, Celtic Renewables

Spotlight on Spin-out, Celtic Renewables 

There is a huge drive across the world to achieve net zero. Research and innovation emerging from universities can play a key role in helping industries access new ideas, expertise and ways of working to make a tangible environmental, economic and societal difference.


With the climate crisis, there is a global movement to shift away from using fossil fuels in efforts to achieving net zero carbon emissions, with alternative more sustainable and resourceful methods being explored by industries. In the biofuel sector, the main challenge of competing with the petrochemical process has been the cost of the raw materials, and how to make the process more sustainable and cost-efficient.


The whisky industry in Scotland is one of the largest and most iconic industries. Researchers from Edinburgh Napier University discovered a way of converting unwanted and low-value biological materials, such as the by-products from whisky distilling, into high-value, low carbon chemicals which can replace petrochemicals currently used in the multitude of products we use every day, from cleaning materials to food production. This Edinburgh Napier innovation has created the spin-out business, Celtic Renewables, which has ambitions to revolutionise the biofuel industry on a global scale.


Groundbreaking, scientific innovation in collaboration with the whisky industry

Celtic Renewables is a spin-out company from Edinburgh Napier University, whose roots began from a university research project to explore what raw materials and sustainable by-products might be able to replace fossil carbon with biogenic carbon and be converted into high value, low carbon compounds to make sustainable biofuel (butanol).

The Edinburgh Napier scientists discovered, by collaborating with Scotland’s whisky production industry, that the by-product residues from whisky distilling could be combined and used as a new starting material for the process. Using a biofuel called biobutanol which is made from draff (the sugar-rich kernels of barley which are soaked in water to facilitate the fermentation process necessary for whisky production) and pot ale (the copper-containing yeasty liquid that is left over following distillation), the research team devised that the biofuel can be used as a direct replacement for road fuel, with no engine modification required.

From an Edinburgh Napier research lab to a global, award-winning, spin-out 

With significant support and funding support from Scottish Government and Scottish Enterprise over the years, the Edinburgh Napier scientists further developed their research in this field and had their patents filed as concepts proven and officially spun out as the company, Celtic Renewables, in 2011.

As the company has grown over the years, Celtic Renewables’ innovation has received many accolades, including being named the most Innovative Biotech SME in Europe at the EU Parliament in 2015, and its founder, Edinburgh Napier’s Professor Martin Tangney received an OBE for his or services to engineering and energy in 2018.

The business recently secured a further £20m+ new funding to build its first production facility in Scotland, which will be the first biorefinery in the country, and the first of its type anywhere in the world.

This new production plant we will show that low-carbon biotechnology innovation can be both commercially sustainable and environmentally sustainable, with Celtic Renewables part of the emerging global bio-based economy, and their patented technology playing an important role in achieving net zero across the world.

Real innovation is where you take the idea, you develop it as a concept, you bring it to something that can work, and you translate it into something that makes a difference in everybody’s lives. That’s where universities, such as Edinburgh Napier University, are so important that they can provide a support network to do that.