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New collaboration to help SWRI enhance counterfeit detection

Partnership between: The Open University and SCOTCH WHISKY RESEARCH INSTITUTE

The Scotch Whisky Research Institute (SWRI) has signed up to the national SPRINT programme to access funded expertise and technology in the Space Instrumentation Discipline at The Open University (OU).

This will enable the SWRI to evaluate innovative gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GCMS) techniques to enhance its authentication capabilities, to more accurately detect counterfeit products and protect one of the UK’s largest export sectors, worth £4.7bn* to the UK economy.

The SWRI carries out research into the authentication of suspect whisky products sourced globally, on behalf of its members – representing approximately 90 per cent of the production capacity of the Scotch Whisky sector – as well as the distilling industry and enforcement agencies.

Each whisky produces a complex profile of hundreds of organic compounds, a pattern that can be used to fingerprint the whisky brand. Working with The Open University, the SWRI will explore a range of comprehensive, 2D gas chromatography techniques to separate the complex mixture of volatile species present and identify even the most subtle differences between samples. Initially, this will be a laboratory-based solution but the longer-term aim is to utilise the OU space instrumentation expertise to jointly develop a small, rugged, field portable system for global use.

Professor James Brosnan, Director of Research at the Scotch Whisky Research Institute said: “As a premium product, Scotch Whisky is a counterfeiting target in both mature and developing markets. The Scotch Whisky Research Institute looks forward to exploring the potential of the advanced techniques developed at the Open University to help us combat counterfeiting. Scientific progress is most effective when different ideas and expertise can collaborate and I welcome the innovative drive of the SPRINT programme to put space science to work on Earth.”

Dr Geraint (Taff) Morgan from the School of Physical Sciences at The Open University said: “The Open University has previously used advanced gas chromatography/mass spectrometry techniques in the development of the Ptolemy space instrument, part of the Rosetta mission that determined that the building blocks of life are present on a comet. Through the SPRINT programme, we will now be leveraging this expertise and our network of strategic partners to support the SWRI’s anti-counterfeiting research and service provision for the distilling industry.”

Ross Burgon, Head of the national SPRINT programme added: “This project, utilising the expertise and technology of one of our core partners, The Open University, is an ideal example of how SPRINT can benefit organisations by transferring space-related expertise and development work into a commercial application.”

*According to Scottish Whisky Association figures, relating to January-December 2018