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Green Beer

Part One: Energy and Beer
Features October 14, 2004      
Written by jercraigs

Toronto, CANADA -

If you have ever met me in person, or read my posts in the off-topic forums it doesn’t take long to figure out that environmental issues are something that really gets me fired up and ready for a debate. There are many in the brewing industry that share my passion for the environment and are running their businesses in a way that reflects this. I feel that their efforts should be recognized and saluted by those of us who enjoy the fruits of their labour, and so I will be looking at some of the environmental impacts of brewing, and profiling some of the brewers taking steps to make their beer as ’green’ as possible.

To begin I will discuss energy use in the brewing industry in general, expanding upon excerpts from a paper I wrote at the University of Toronto titled "Energy and the Canadian Brewing Industry." I made frequent use of a comprehensive energy study prepared by The Brewers of Canada, and communications with breweries across the country. The results include an overall picture of energy use and areas of concern in Canadian brewing operations both large and small.

The topic of energy receives a lot of attention within the brewing industry around the world: energy conservation is an important part of the curriculum for students in the brewing program at Heriot Watt University in Scotland, the Green Party of Ontario platform recognizes the energy savings of reduced shipping distances and advocates the reduction of taxes for locally produced beer, and breweries ranging in size from transnational corporations to neighborhood microbreweries have taken steps to monitor their energy consumption.

Ownership One thing worth noting, I discovered from the survey responses was the distinction between breweries that lease their space and those who own their property. A few brewers said this is an important factor when considering investing in energy infrastructure. Ken Woods from Black Oak Brewing notes that "at this time it’s just not economically feasible to install some form of energy technology and then have to rip it out and reinstall it in property we owned."

Canadian Energy Use Stats The Canadian brewing industry is dominated by the two largest breweries, Labatt Breweries and Molson Breweries, but there are upwards of 75 breweries across Canada with new breweries opening and closing each year. They produce a combined average of around 22.5 million hectolitres (hL) of beer each year. The industry’s total energy mix includes 71% natural gas, 6% fuel oil and 23% electricity.

The larger breweries spent thousands of dollars on energy conservation measures in the 1970s. Rising energy prices meant that eliminating energy inefficiencies were an easy way to save money. NAFTA and an increasingly competitive market Labatt and Molson achieved cost and energy reductions via plant rationalization, closing a number of smaller plants and concentrating production. Expanding the surviving plants to absorb the volume from the terminated plants meant installing state of the art equipment, much of which is more energy efficient.

In 1993 the Canadian Industry Program for Energy Conservation (CIPEC) established a Brewing Sector Task Force to promote the exchange of information on how breweries could conserve energy, water, and other utilities. Prior to the efforts of the task force, the average specific energy consumption was more than 350 MJ/hL. It should be noted that the production levels of the larger breweries affect the averages. Smaller breweries can lack the efficiency and economy of scale of their larger counterparts and can therefore use up to twice the amount of energy relative to output. The amount of energy a brewery uses can vary widely depending on their packaging mix, fuel efficiency, location climate, and owner ideology. [As I will discuss in the brewery profiles later small breweries are able to make special conservation efforts impractical for large operations.]

In 1995, the brewing industry committed to energy reductions of 1% per year until 2004 and 1.5% for the following three years. So far their efforts have reduced energy consumption by approximately 7%. So how is all this energy used?

Boilers Most breweries use a boiler steam process to heat the brew kettle. (Direct fire heating is also common for brewers who are brewing on a very small scale.) Boiler fuel makes up 25% to 35% of total energy costs. Larger breweries may use dual fuel (often natural gas or oil) boilers to take advantage of price fluctuations and reduce the likelihood that fuel shortages will disrupt operations, but single fuel boilers are common.

Primary fuel choices in Canada are natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas (i.e. propane or butane), heavy oil, and light oil. Most breweries surveyed reported using natural gas, only Propeller Brewing in Nova Scotia reported the use of oil for heating. Breweries which generate biogas from anaerobic wastewater treatment plants can use it to pre-heat air or water and reduce the fuel used by the main boiler. Biogas is unreliable as a principle fuel source due to its variable methane and C02 composition, and it is slightly corrosive because of its moisture content.

The outgoing steam from a typical boiler contains 75% to 77% of the energy input by the fuel. Large operations that distribute steam produced at a central boiler must pay careful attention to optimizing the distribution network to avoid losses. A steam leak as small as a few millimeters can result in multiple tonnes of additional fuel being consumed. Some breweries such as Steamwhistle Brewing in Toronto, and Steamworks Brewing Company in Vancouver use steam generated by outside parties. Steamwhistle uses steam provided by a local heating and cooling company, Enwave , while Steamworks uses the same steam line that runs an historic local steam clock.

Fermentation – Refrigeration and Cooling Refrigeration and cooling can account for more than 30% of electricity consumption. This presents a savings opportunity for breweries that improve energy efficiency by optimizing their system. Beer is typically cooled at three stages of the brewing process: prior to fermentation, during fermentation, and after fermentation.

Many breweries use incoming cold water to cool hot wort, which is then trim cooled by glycol chillers. This can have the added benefit of pre-heating water before it enters the brew kettle as well. Yukon Brewing Company uses a glycol cooling system similar to that used by many other breweries. Glycol circulates through a network of pipes to cool the fermentation vats and the walk-in cooler. The glycol absorbs heat along the way and must be cooled before being sent through the system again.

The unique aspect of Yukon Brewing’s system is that in winter they use a repurposed air-handling unit allowing cold outside air to cool the glycol in a process comparable to a home refrigerator. This yields an energy savings by reducing reliance on their electricity powered groundwater heat pump system. Both systems have an advantage over traditional refrigeration systems because "systems like our air handling unit and condenser fans get rid of more heat than the energy put into them," says Yukon’s Bob Baxter, "If you put one kilowatt of energy into a refrigerator, it will produce two to two and a half kilowatts of heat."

Compressed Air Compressed air is used throughout brewery operations for process control duties such as powering actuators positioning bottles and kegs, control valves, and pushing various liquids. It often receives little attention despite that fact that it can use as much as 8% of a brewery’s electricity consumption. Compressed air is inefficient, converting only 15% of the energy used to produce it into usable pneumatic energy. Simple techniques can thus generate large energy savings: General employee awareness and careful use, optimizing the system so no more pressure is generated than is required by equipment, prevention or repairs of leaky equipment.

Still to Come Well that gets us started nicely, and gives us a good idea of some of the basics of energy consumption at a brewery. Yeah I know, it’s not exactly edge of your seat excitement but I think it is important to have a rough idea what we are talking about in order to understand why the efforts being made by brewers are so cool. Next week I will take a look at packaging and how the container our beer comes in affects the environment.

Know of any breweries that are going great things for the environment? Drop me a beermail and let me know!


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