How Cooper King Distillery is leading the way: crafting England’s first net zero energy whisky

11/03/2024 Anna Cole

Cooper King Distillery (CKD) is the first distillery in England to achieve net-zero carbon emissions with their net zero energy whisky – the First Edition. 

Cooper King Distillery is an independent craft distillery based in North Yorkshire, England. Since Chris Jaume and Dr. Abbie Neilson founded the distillery in 2016, they have focused on reducing their environmental impact.

We contacted Chris Jaume to find out more about their innovative and sustainable distilling processes.

Let’s take a close look at the actions CKD have taken to reduce their carbon footprint, including making a globally recognised climate commitment through We Mean Business Coalition’s small business initiative, the SME Climate Hub.

Improving process efficiency for a net zero status

Cooper King have implemented innovative and sustainable distilling processes in their whisky production to help them achieve net zero energy status.

This meant that CKD achieved a 21% energy reduction for whisky making in 2022, equating to an annual saving of 7,757 kWh.

They reduced their energy and water use in these three ways:

1. NASA technology paint on their copper still

Cooper King worker inspecting copper still coated in NASA paint

Cooper King worker inspecting copper still coated in NASA paint

They painted the pot of their copper still in a cutting-edge, insulating paint developed for NASA. This NASA paint is used to protect the tips of space rockets from heat damage when re-entering the atmosphere.

The matt grey paint is filled with ceramic micro-beads. They applied this in 3 coats which forms an incredibly effective insulating layer just 3mm thick. When the still is running at 100°C, you can comfortably rest your hand on the outside of it (it’s around 60°C).

Although this meant covering the pretty copper, CKD have made a drastic reduction in distillation run times and energy consumption.

2. Water capture: recycling hot water from the distillation process

The still condenser is fed by mains water at around 10°C, which helps condense the vapour coming off the still into flowing distillate, before exiting the condenser at around 60°C.

CKD now capture this water in an insulated stainless-steel vessel and use it to pre-heat the wash entering the still the next morning, by passing both liquids through a heat exchanger. Any remaining hot water is used for cleaning. It’s a simple system that saves both energy and water.

3. Increasing heat transfer 

CKD previously heated the still using an electrical element array mounted onto the underside of the still. This was not in direct contact with the liquid inside the still.

This system proved to be inefficient, as much of the heat was transferred to the air around the elements. They have now installed three new elements within the pot itself, along with a pump to recirculate the still’s contents, maintaining a steady flow of liquid over the elements.

This new set-up minimises caking on the elements (burning of liquid onto their surface) and increases the energy efficiency of their distillation runs. Thanks to a new panel, they now have incremental control over the elements’ power supply and the pump’s speed, giving them greater control over the distillation process.

Contracting renewable energy

CKD’s electricity supply is from renewable, zero carbon sources via energy providers Ecotricity and Drax. They removed gas-fired heating in 2022.

Harnessing solar energy for net zero maturation

Cooper King runs on renewable energy. Their maturation warehouse is ventilated by a 100% solar-powered system. Plans are underway to cover the distillery’s entire roof with solar panels – which are expected to meet 75% of their energy needs.

Finding sustainable solutions for packaging

Cooper King First Edition net zero energy whisky bottle

Cooper King First Edition net zero energy whisky bottle

Cooper King uses sustainable alternatives to traditional materials to contribute to the distillery’s eco-friendly practices.

These include:

  • bottle stoppers made from FSC-certified wood and raw, bio-based materials which don’t require glue for assembly
  • tamper proof bottle seals made from UK sustainably sourced wood cellulose that biodegrades in 12 weeks
  • patented, honeycomb sleeves made from 100% recycled paper
  • packing material made from waste cardboard which is shredded at the distillery
  • lightweight bottles made from 55% recycled glass which reduce the bottles’ carbon footprint by 65%

Sourcing locally and recycling

Cooper King whisky uses barley grown in England to support English growers and reduce food miles. A local farmer collects the spent barley grains from the brewing process every week to feed his cattle.

All other waste is either recycled or sent to a nearby waste-to-energy plant, which generates power for local homes. Zero waste is sent to landfill.

Achieving a transparent net zero status

CKD collected direct data from their activities to estimate their energy use from 2018 to 2023. They enlisted environmental consultants, Environmental Strategies, to analyse and calculate their distilling operation emissions.

The total emissions was 0.6 tonnes of CO₂e, equating to an average of 0.1 tonnes of CO₂e per year. Residual emissions were removed from the atmosphere via direct air capture and tree planting projects in the UK and overseas.

View the CKD Net Zero Energy Whisky report

CKD have made their net zero energy status transparent by making the globally recognised SME Climate Commitment through the SME Climate Hub.

Find out about more SME net zero case studies.

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