Created on: February 13, 2013
In a bid to cut costs and reduce its environmental footprint, the Alaskan Brewing Company (ABC) is turning to a radical new source of energy: beer.
USAToday reports that the Juneau-based beer maker is converting its spent grain or waste from the brewing process into energy via a unique boiler system. The $1.8 million furnace uses the spent grain is fuel to generate steam, which is then used to run the brewery’s operations. The running joke is that the company is serving “beer-powered beer.”
Traditionally, most of the spent grain is sold to farms and ranches to be used as feed for the animals. However, with only 37 farms in southeast Alaska, and a mere 680 in the whole state as of 2011, this is not feasible. In Juneau, Alaska, where there are no roads leading to the city, everything has to be transported by plane or by sea, making the transportation costs especially high. In the case of beer-making, spent grain is wet, which adds to the weight. Drying it first is prohibitively expensive. So when the Alaskan Brewing Company expanded in 1995, transporting the spent grain to the lower 49 states was no longer cost effective. Shipping the spent grain cost $30 per ton, but it could only be sold for $60. Instead, the company had to come up with an alternative solution.
Co-founder Greg Larson says “we had to be a little more innovative just so that we could do what we love to do, but do it where we’re located.”
Four years ago, the company started exploring alternative uses of the spent grain, including in energy recovery systems. At the time, the idea was novel. “Nobody was burning spent grain as a sole fuel source for an energy recovery system, for a steam boiler,” claims brewing operations and engineering manager, Brandon Smith.
Armed with half a million dollars of grants from the federal Rural Energy for America Program, the Alaskan Brewing Company asked a company based in North Dakota to build the special boiler system. ABC expects to save almost half a million dollars or about 70% of its energy bills with the new system.
Even with the high cost savings, other breweries have not shown any interest in the new system. While Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest brewer, does not currently use spent grains as an energy source, the company employs bio-energy recovery systems that turn waste water into biogas in most of its American plants. However, the returns are small, providing just 9% of the required fuel for its boilers.
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