From Bourbon to Batteries

There is no short supply of bourbon in Kentucky. But like many products, the distillation of the state’s unofficial beverage produces a sludgy waste known as bourbon stillage. The question for one researcher from the University of Kentucky’s Center for Applied Energy Research was how to repurpose that waste into something with tremendous potential.

To answer that question, ECS member Stephen Lipka and his Electrochemical Power Sources group set out to transform the bourbon stillage through a process called hydrothermal carbonization, where the liquid waste gets a dose of water and heat to produce green materials.

(MORE: See more of Lipka’s work in the ECS Digital Library.)

“In Kentucky, we have this stillage that contains a lot of sugars and carbohydrates so we tried it and it works beautifully,” says Lipka. “We take these [green materials] and we then do additional post-processing to convert it into useful materials that can be used for batteries.”

Possible applications for the various types of batteries that could be produced range from pacemakers to aerospace to portable electronics.

This development is especially important in the progress of batteries such as lithium-ion, where materials used in production are typically expensive. Bourbon stillage, however, is exceptionally cheap.

“I think the most exciting thing for me, and for most people, is that you can take a product that is considered waste in many industries, and re-purpose it, or convert it into value-added product that has tremendous utility,” says Lipka. “I would like to get some of the distilleries interested in this and see this have some traction at the end of the day, and turn it into a business. I think it can be done. It would be another wonderful Kentucky story.”

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