It’s Earth Day which means today everyone celebrates how beautiful the earth is, discusses the many ways humans are destroying the Earth, some children plant a few trees, you recycle a can and feel good about yourself and then tomorrow everything goes back to normal.
The brewing industry uses a lot of stuff. Water, crops and plenty of energy is required. Fortunately, there are processes that breweries around the world implement year-round to try and make the carbon footprint of beer a bit smaller.
Spent grain is something that breweries recycle in a variety of ways. What is spent grain? It’s a byproduct from brewing process. The chemical composition of wet spent grains is about 80% water, 9 % nitrogen free extract, 5% protein, 4% cellulose fibers, 2% fat and 1% minerals. For hundreds of years, spent grain has been given to farmers to use as feed and compost. Some breweries turn spent grain into dog treats, fish food, granola bars and even bread. The city of Boulder uses weak wort to help reduce nitrogen runoff from its water-treatment facilities. Waste2Watergy created a microbial fuel cell that can generate energy as it treats wastewater. Larger breweries such as Coors and Sierra Nevada turn their waste into ethanol fuel by processing their yeast in a MicroFueler. Iron Horse gives spent grain to local farmers and also recycles yeast waste in the form of compost.
There are other ways to be earth conscious aside from reusing spent grain. Iron Horse’s new brewhouse is incredibly energy efficient. It extracts nearly 100% of the grain resources that we’re looking for, while our old brewhouse only extracted 75% of starches. The new brewhouse’s economizer captures heat and turns it into hot water as opposed to venting steam and losing it’s heat as was done in the old system. The “vapor condenser” and “smart boil” features are a huge part of the energy saving process.
There are other earth-friendly practices any production facility (or office building for that matter) can execute on that have nothing to do with the beer production. The Iron Horse production facility was recently “re-lit” with more energy efficient lighting. LED light bulbs replaced old bulbs and motion detectors are the norm now. There is also no air conditioning in the building. Fans are our friend.
Perhaps one of the things Iron Horse can be most proud of is our low wastewater ratios and our low use of water in general. The Brewer’s Association used Iron Horse Brewery in a case study for their yet-to-be published new edition of the Water Conservation Guide. According to some article, the average brewery uses about 155 gallons of water per one barrel of beer but Iron Horse is at about 93 gallons per one barrel of beer. Iron Horse wastewater to beer ratio is at about 1 to 1 where the industry average sits at about 3 to 1.
There’s more work to be done in terms of energy efficiency and brewing but every year the industry improves. Earth day is a nice reminder that although beer is delicious it does cost the world some natural resources and that is not something we take lightly.