Raising a glass to ethanol sustainability in Manchester 

By Carl Peterson December 16, 2014

Whether you’re ordering a G & T, a Sidecar or a dry martini, next time you get together with friends to share a cocktail, be sure to raise a toast to sustainability.

That’s because Cargill’s potable ethanol plant in Manchester, U.K., recently announced that in the past year, it has achieved a 23 percent increase in alcohol concentration using an innovative fermentation process. In other words, the plant is producing 23 percent more alcohol from the same inputs, significantly reducing its environmental impact per liter.

Many of Europe’s leading brands of spirits use the alcohol produced at the plant as the base raw material for their gins, vodkas, liqueurs, and cream liquors. The top-grade product, which is made from wheat, also is used by pharmaceutical and personal care companies for a wide variety of products, including high-end perfumes.

In both cases, it’s crucial that the alcohol maintain excellent attributes of taste and odor. This is so important, in fact, that Cargill keeps an international testing panel of more than 30 “noses,” or experts, on staff to ensure the product’s consistency. So when a team of Cargill chemical engineers, plant operations specialists and R&D scientists set out to boost the amount of alcohol produced from existing fermentation processes at Manchester, they knew they needed to do it without sacrificing an ounce of quality.

They experimented with new combinations and concentrations of enzymes and yeasts, the microscopic workhorses that convert sugars into alcohol. When they thought they’d found the ideal blend, they added in Cargill expertise on plant operation processes to significantly reduce the energy consumption and emissions per unit of alcohol.

“We were surprised at how much could be gained,” said Sergio Blanco-Rosete, a process engineer at the Manchester plant. “But it’s a tribute to how innovative teams can be when they work together to share ideas and come up with solutions.”

Sharing the best ideas

The project was a finalist in the bioprocessing category for the 2014 IChemE Global Awards, a leading chemical engineering prize.

The gains in alcohol fermentation have already been transferred to other Cargill plants in Europe.

Meanwhile, Cargill’s teams at these locations are continuing to collaborate to find even better, more efficient fermentation processes that produce more alcohol with fewer resources.

This means that across Europe, that Happy Hour beverage will be just a little bit friendlier to the planet. Now that’s something you can drink to.