Whisky works magic on polluted land

SCIENTISTS yesterday unveiled the latest weapon in the battle to clean up polluted ground-water at contaminated land sites – whisky.

A natural by-product from the preparation of Scotland's national drink is being used to clean contaminated ground and waste water in a pioneering technique, potentially worth millions of pounds, developed by scientists at Aberdeen University.

The innovative technology – known as Dram (device for the remediation and attenuation of multiple pollutants) – is said to be cheaper and easier to deploy than standard treatments and has a massive potential to cut the UK's annual estimated spend on land remediation (remedying the presence of pollutants) of 1.2 billion.

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Scottish Enterprise has provided almost 300,000 for the research via its Proof of Concept programme, and the world-famous Speyside distillery, Glenfiddich, has also helped researchers by donating the unidentified by-product.

Dr Graeme Paton, one of the researchers and a leading soil toxicologist, said: "Dram is a groundbreaking technology. Currently, we are using the by-product of Scotland's most famous export but our technology can use other by-products from the food and beverage industry.

"The clean-up of contaminated ground-water is a massive global market. The technology we have developed here at Aberdeen is environmentally friendly and sustainable and has the potential to put Scotland at the forefront for remediation technologies.

"It is the first technology that can remove metal contaminants at the same time as degrading organic pollutants such as pesticides."

Dr Paton explained that the current system for cleaning up contaminated ground-water involved pumping the water out of a site, processing it to remove any pollution, then pumping it back into the ground.

The "passive" system the Scottish team has developed involves inserting the organic material from whisky processing into the ground to attract solvents, which it breaks down.

"No intervention is required to apply it to contaminated sites as it can use existing infrastructure and remain in place unobtrusively for years," Dr Paton said. "Other processes used in the clean-up of sites require expensive equipment to be brought on to site, trenches to be dug and fences erected. Sometimes the cost of this – together with deadlines for remediation – mean it is too costly to clean up the land."

Dr Paton explained: "We cannot identify the product on the advice of our patent lawyer. But it is a natural by-product of the distilling process."