Energy is an important consideration in the brewing process. It is needed for brewing the wort, for refrigerating the finished product, and even for moving the beer from one container to another during the brewing process. Most breweries rely on energy drawn from the local power grid for this. Some have made the transition to solar or wind power. However, Alaskan Brewing is doing something a little different. They are taking their spent grain (a byproduct at every brewery in the world) and using it to fire a brand new, custom-built boiler.
Now, spent grain is used as co-fuel in a number of breweries. However, Alaskan Brewing is thus far the only brewery to use it as their sole fuel source in an energy recovery system. The hope is that the new boiler system (and the use of spent grain as their fuel source) will help the brewery reduce their energy consumption by 70% or more per year. That’s a pretty significant step towards a greener planet.
Animal Feed Production – More Than Just Spent Grain
Most breweries sell off their spent grain for use as animal feed. However, a few breweries are taking things a little bit further. Rather than only selling off their grain, they are also sending off spent yeast, sediment, protein and other refuse that would otherwise end up in a landfill somewhere. Doing this requires that the brewery have access to a special processing facility, though, and those aren’t available everywhere. As the demand for these types of facilities grows, you can expect to see new companies getting into the act (creating new jobs while simultaneously preventing unnecessary waste from ending up in overfilled landfills).
There are other options for dealing with spent grain, as well. For example, 5 Kingdoms Development uses spent grain in growing mushrooms, helping to create a “closed loop” system with zero waste. Even wastewater can be used – microorganisms can transform wastewater into several different gases, including hydrogen and methane, both of which can be used as fuels.
Heat Recovery Systems
Brewing creates heat. It’s an inescapable fact and an integral part of the brewing process. Some breweries are taking the step of having heat recovery systems installed that take the heat from the brewing process and use it to heat their offices and other buildings. This allows those breweries to reduce their energy consumption by a significant amount. During the months when extra heat isn’t necessary, a heat recovery system can vent it outdoors.
A huge amount of pollution comes from shipping brewing supplies across the world. Grain and hops are the two most obvious ingredients that need to be shipped. Each shipment is not only responsible for further pollution of the environment through exhaust emissions (trucks and ships), but also increases the demand for fuel (those trucks and ships have to run on conventional fuel sources). One way that craft breweries are making an impact in the green movement is by sourcing their ingredients locally.
Both grains and hops can be sourced locally (though hops are not available in every local area). In addition, sourcing locally grown grains and hops not only reduces emissions and fuel costs, but the demand is driving business creation as well. A number of new hops growers have started operating throughout the US in the last few years, and farmers are finding that the demand from local breweries is making their operations more profitable than ever before.
Waste Product Transformation
Similar to the way that breweries are transforming spent yeast, grain and protein into animal feed, there is another option here. Many of the byproducts of the brewing process can be transformed into chemicals that would otherwise have to be derived from petroleum (petrochemicals). For instance, Budweiser’s parent company has partnered with a waste recovery and transformation firm that creates carboxylic acids from brewing wastes. These chemicals are used in the creation of a variety of different products, ranging from soap to shaving cream.
More Conventional Options
While the options listed above are capable of dramatic effects on the environment, there are more conventional options out there. These options cover a broad range of techniques, including utilizing solar and wind power generation, water use reduction, wastewater reuse and more. Quite a few breweries lead the way in these areas, including Sierra Nevada, New Belgium Brewing, Anchor Steam and even global giant AB-InBev.
Every small step toward energy and resource conservation is a positive one. Every single action taken with protecting the environment in mind is a good thing. More and more brewers are realizing that they have the power to make a positive impact on the planet.
What Can Drinkers Do?
While breweries are the obvious focus when it comes to sustainability and green practices, there are quite a few things that consumers can do. For instance, supporting craft breweries that implement green practices in their brewing facilities not only ensures that those businesses flourish, but encourages other breweries to make similar changes. Beer lovers can show that protecting the environment matters to them by throwing their weight behind industry leaders and innovators, and can make a very real impact on the world.
Going green does not require massive overhauls of equipment and technology. A single idea is enough to start a landslide and result in the eventual total transformation of a brewery into a sustainable practice that not only doesn’t actively harm the environment, but that takes specific steps to protect and repair the world in which we live.