A growing interest in ethanol

A growing interest in ethanol

The ethanol producer Raisinor France Alcools has grape expectations after a bumper year for local wineries.

Last year, farmers in the famous wine region of south-west France experienced a bumper crop, among the best in years. And the growers’ delight is shared by Raisinor France Alcools, a company that produces ethanol fuel from the waste products of the winemaking process.

The results of this great year are clearly evident at the huge 18,000 m2 storage hall at the Union Cooperatives Vinicoles Aquitaine (UCVA) distillery in Coutras, in the heart of this winemaking country near Bordeaux.

Following the harvest last autumn, local farmers within a radius of 50 kilometres from the distillery delivered 100,000 tonnes of pomace (the skin, seed and stalk residue of pressed grapes). Approximately one-fifth of the grapes are pomace and UCVA processes this into 150 million litres of alcohol.

From low-level wine waste to ethanol fuel

Nowadays, what used to be a low-level residue of viticulture – commonly recovered for animal feed or composted as fertiliser – is being gainfully distilled as ethanol for heavy vehicles.

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“Five years ago, winemakers mainly viewed pomace as an unwelcome by-product but now it’s seen as an additional and valuable moneymaker,” says Jérôme Budua, Managing Director of Raisinor France Alcools.

“We produce alcohol and then we extract the seeds to make edible grapeseed oil. With what’s left, we dry the grape skins for use as animal feed or as biofuel.”

It’s no coincidence that the heavy vehicle-grade ethanol fuel, ED95, will be used to operate Scania buses in the area; the UCVA distillery has always been savvy about exploiting new business opportunities. It was founded by nearby wineries as a cooperative in the 1930s, and things really took off in the mid-1940s with the production of alcohol for medicinal and cleaning products.

The UCVA distillery in Coutras, outside Bordeaux, France.
Photo: Zachary Alfred

By the 1980s, the distillery had started producing ethanol for export to Brazil and Sweden, but interest in ethanol waned, not least because of an unfavourable taxation regime in the French domestic market.

Global warming concerns revive ethanol production

Rejuvenated by growing concerns about global warming, ethanol – which can reduce carbon emissions by up to 90 percent –  is the subject of growing demand, primarily in Finland, France, Norway and Sweden. This is good news for UCVA and Raisinor.

Budua says production will now be expanded to producing ethanol. “Using ethanol in vehicles makes a lot of sense in our region. Most importantly, it is very ecological, given that it’s locally produced and locally used. This is something new and it’s something which needs to be encouraged in the future.”