Seven distillers operating in the Rothes area, ranging from big names like Diageo to smaller ones like BenRiach, created a joint venture, Helius Corde, to run the project.
Investing £60.5m (€70m) in the initiative, the whisky producers believe that once up and running in 2013 the plant will generate 7.2 megawatts of electricity.
“At that level the site would cut carbon emissions from the Scotch whisky industry as a whole by 6 per cent,” said Julie Hesketh-Laird, director of operational and technical affairs at the Scotch Whisky Association.
The project is a key element on the road to meeting 2020 industry targets on renewable energy. From a base of 3 per cent in 2008 the industry has pledged to derive 20 per cent of its primary energy requirements from non-fossil fuel sources by 2020.
Explaining how the new biomass plant in Rothes will work, Hesketh-Laird said it will use pot ale and draff to create energy.
These by-products are normally combined to create an animal feed product but because of their high carbohydrate content the Rothes plant will use them for their energy potential.
The draff from the distilleries will be combusted in a dedicated Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plant, generating both heat (steam) and electricity
The bulk of the energy produced from the plant will not go straight back into distilleries but rather be sold to the grid with the help of the Renewables Obligation Scotland project which encourages electricity companies to buy up renewable energy.
Helius Corde is not the only initiative in the Scotch whisky industry aimed at cutting carbon emissions and reducing reliance on fossil fuels.
A number of distillers are pursing their own projects to turn pot ale and draff into energy or generate steam and power from another whisky by-product – ‘spent wash’.
Diageo, for example, has built a bio-energy facility at its Cameronbridge distillery in Fife. This is to provide for 80 per cent of the electricity requirements at the distillery, and cut its carbon footprint by 60 per cent.