The sustainable energy movement is spilling over into the beer industry, and understandably so. With over 5,000 breweries and brew pubs in the U.S. in 2016, and more craft beer shops launching each day, the energy needs of the industry’s manufacturing process continue to rise. Forward-thinking breweries are applying innovative, clean energy initiatives to responsibly fuel the rising demand of a thirsty client base.
Brewing beer is simple in some respects. The basic process is: add barley and hops to water, pitch some yeast in the mix, wait, bottle, and drink. But the brewing process is also nuanced and complex, and involves multiple energy-guzzling steps of heating, cooling, roasting, boiling, refrigerating, sterilizing, and cleaning. The power needed to fuel these steps, as well as the waste byproducts of the spent ingredients, have the potential to work together in a unified renewable loop.
Boilers, Beer, Biomass
The New Belgium Brewery and Alaskan Brewing Co. are two examples of companies who have benefitted from this symbiotic, renewable relationship. Using a special biomass boiler furnace for the brewing waste, Alaskan Brewing is able to create steam, which helps to power the facility’s operations.
Untreated, residual wastewater from New Belgium’s brewing process is pumped into an on-site anaerobic digester where microbes consume the brewing biomass and turn it into methane. Once collected, the methane gas is converted to energy and channeled back to the brewing process. Breweries willing to shell out the initial investment for the equipment and technology see a number of long-lasting, clean energy benefits.
NC Energy Champions
Locally, the Outer Banks Brewing Station in Kill Devil Hills, NC is the first brewery in the United States to reap the benefits of wind energy. Built in 2008, the brewery’s wind turbine will provide operational power and ultimately save the facility in energy costs.
The Sierra Nevada Brewing Co’s facility in Mills River, NC has been recognized regionally and nationally for injecting a clean energy approach into the brewing process. The company achieves this through the use of solar panels, wind microturbine technology, composting, resource recovery, organic recycling, clean water treatment & management, reduced packaging materials, and using alternative transportation procedures. In June 2016, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.’s Mills River, NC facility was the first production brewery in the country to be LEED® certified, Platinum —the highest level awarded.
With a reputation for conservative resource consumption, North Carolina remains a strong participant in the clean energy movement, and has earned 3 spots on the list of the Top 40 Solar Beer Breweries around the world. Regardless of the industry, clean energy does not have to equate to reduced quality or sluggish processes. Outfitting any type of facility with renewable energy capabilities — whether it is solar, wind, bioenergy, or other sources — typically yields a 10 years or less return on investment, making it a smart and effective economic move for any company. And for those North Carolina businesses leveraging clean energy approaches to help drive their economic success, all while creating outstanding products, we raise our glass.