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.
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.”