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Thursday, 01 Apr 2010


Dr Graeme Paton and Dr Leigh Cassidy of Aberdeen University

The technology that we have developed at Aberdeen is environmentally friendly, sustainable and has the potential to put Scotland at the forefront for remediation technologies. It is not just the deployment that is novel but also the underpinning technology to predict the success.

Dr Graeme Paton

Aberdeen University

Dr Graeme Paton and Dr Leigh Cassidy of Aberdeen University

Dr Graeme Paton and Dr Leigh Cassidy of Aberdeen University

How whisky puts spirit back into bad soil

Innovative scientists at a leading Scottish university have developed an environmentally friendly system.

It removes multiple pollutants from contaminated land - using a by-product of whisky manufacturing.

It seems that whisky’s supposed healing powers may be more than just old wives’ tales. Innovative scientists at a leading Scottish university have developed a unique and environmentally friendly system of removing multiple pollutants from contaminated land - much faster and cheaper than today’s methods.

‘Dram’ technology removes pollutants

The by-product from the production of Scotland’s national drink - and a favourite around the globe - has been proved to cleanse contaminated soil and waste water in a new technique proved by the University of Aberdeen. Perhaps it is apt that the word whisky comes from ‘uisge beatha’ in Gaelic, meaning: water of life.

The pioneering technology - called 'Dram' - has massive global potential for industry, with groundwater contamination costing scores of billion of pounds a year worldwide. Polluted soil can hold up or even prevent land development as well as being a hazard to health and the environment.

And in this market, Scotland has the chance to be a technology and innovation leader. Dram was developed by an Aberdeen University research and development group, including co-inventors Dr Leigh Cassidy and Dr Graeme Paton. Now, its creators are looking to take the process to a commercial level by spinning out a company from the university.

How Dram works

Dram uses a product left over after whisky-making; this, together with a passive organic material in a device, is inserted into contaminated water, where it attracts and then breaks down active, harmful solvent pollutants.

Contaminated sites and former industrial areas can be blighted by pollutants that have leached into the land. These areas will have housed all kinds of industry from small dry-cleaning firms and car servicing companies to large chemical plants. The UK’s annual estimated spend on land remediation is 1.2 billion pounds.

Until now there has been no single solution for the treatment of contaminated groundwater because different pollutants require different clean-up methods that are expensive and take time.

But Dram (short for ‘Device for the Remediation and Attenuation of Multiple pollutants’) is the first process that removes multiple pollutants simultaneously in a new way that is far quicker and more cost effective than present techniques. Dram could also deploy other by-products from food and drink production.

Scottish enterprise funding

Scottish Enterprise has provided almost 300,000 pounds of funding into the research via its Proof of Concept programme that aims to improve the level and quality of commercialisation within Scotland’s universities, research institutes and hospitals. The world-renowned Speyside distillery Glenfiddich helped the research by donating the by-product for use in the technology.

Unique environment to develop scientific techniques

Dr Graeme Paton, a leading soil toxicologist, said: “The technology that we have developed at Aberdeen is environmentally friendly, sustainable and has the potential to put Scotland at the forefront for remediation technologies. It is not just the deployment that is novel but also the underpinning technology to predict the success.

“This is a genuine Scottish invention using traditional Scottish produce but has the capability of being applied to a significant global market. And in this market we have the chance to be technology and innovation leaders,” he added.

Research fellow Dr Leigh Cassidy said: “The university has enabled a unique environment to apply and develop proven scientific techniques with a commercial end-user demand. We have shown that it [Dram] is a viable product. A lot of the present clean-up technology is not very green at all and can be energy-intensive.

“Dram is much better. We reckon that its use will cost about a third of other methods’ costs. It is very environmentally friendly - if we use the product to deal with organic contamination, our process simply degrades safely in time,” she added.

“When used to clean up metal contamination, the final result is a small amount of material that can be taken away to be disposed of safely or burned in an incinerator in an energy production system,” added Dr Cassidy.

‘Proof of Concept’ programme supports 206 projects

Eleanor Taylor, head of the ‘Proof of Concept’ programme at Scottish Enterprise, added: “Scotland is leading the UK and Europe in providing routes for our researchers to take their technology innovations out of the lab and turn them into growing Scottish businesses.”

The programme currently supports 206 groundbreaking projects that have collectively leveraged 210 million pounds in post-programme funding, and has already created more than 500 jobs, 40 spin-out/start-up companies and 38 licences. Pre-field trials of Dram conducted in western Scotland have shown a 99.96 per cent success rate.

Dram technology can be applied to low-value land

The Dram technology is different from current remediation techniques in many ways. It is the first technology that can remove metal contaminants at the same time as degrading organic pollutants such as pesticides. It can be applied simply to contaminated sites, using existing infrastructure and remaining in place unobtrusively for years.

Environment

Read more about the UK Environment sector.

Other processes require expensive equipment, trenches to be dug and fences erected. Sometimes, this cost makes it is too expensive to clean the land. But Dram can be applied to low-value land that may not have been worth regenerating.

The technique can be gradually or intensely applied. This means long-term strategies could be developed for contaminated land or quicker clean-ups implemented if the land has high value.

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