Science uses meat and whiskey to make the world a greener place

There are many efforts by science to find methods of food production and transportation fuel sources that have less of an impact on the environment. Two entrepreneurial companies are looking to do so in rather novel, but very effective ways.

Andras Forgacs, co-founder of Modern Meadow, a start-up company in Columbia, Missouri, announced plans to use bio-printing — also called cultured meat production — to produce both leather for the fashion industry, and high-quality meat for human consumption, without raising livestock. According to their website, "this enables lower costs and lower inputs of land, water, chemicals and fossil fuels."

According to the authors of a 2010 study from the University of Oxford and the University of Amsterdam, their results "showed that cultured meat production involves approximately 35-60% lower energy use, 80-95% lower GHG emissions and 98% lower land use compared to conventionally produced meat products in Europe."

Breakout Labs, a project started by PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, has supported Modern Meadow with at least $250,000 so far.

"Modern Meadow is combining regenerative medicine with 3D printing to imagine an economic and compassionate solution to a global problem," said Lindy Fishburne, executive director of Breakout Labs. "We hope our support will help propel them through the early stage of their development, so they can turn their inspired vision into reality."

Now, another start-up company called Celtic Renewables has announced that it can use the waste products from whiskey distilleries to produce a biofuel called 'biobutanol'. According to their website, "Biobutanol has 25% more energy per unit volume than bioethanol", "can be blended without modifications in blending facilities, storage tanks or retail pump stations" and "can run in unmodified engines at any blend with petrol and may also be blended with diesel and biodiesel."

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This is a substantial advantage over current biofuels, which can only be used in modified vehicles, and are produced from corn or other crops. One criticism of the current biofuel industry is that it grows its biofuel crops in poor areas of the world that are lured by more money, but which need their croplands to produce cheap sources of food.

According to BBC News, the Tullibardine Distillery in Scotland, which spends £250,000 (around $400,000 Cdn) a year to dispose of its by-products, plans to donate them to Celtic instead.

"Our partnership with Tullibardine is an important step in the development of a business which combines two iconic Scottish industries - whisky and renewables." said Professor Martin Tangney, founder of Celtic Renewables. "This project demonstrates that innovative use of existing technologies can utilise resources on our doorstep to benefit both the environment and the economy."

Douglas Ross, managing director of Tullibardine, added: "We are delighted to be partnering Celtic Renewables in this innovative venture, the obvious benefits of which are environmental. It takes a cost to us and turns it into something that has social, as well as commercial value."

Burning biofuels like biobutanol still produces greenhouse gases, of course, however, as with other biofuels, the carbon emissions tend to be balanced by the carbon capture of growing the biofuel crop. Producing biobutanol without the need to take up more land for the 'feedstock' represents a substantial advantage over other biofuels and their source is nearly limitless, given that whiskey production unlikely to drop off anytime soon.

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