Wednesday 11 November 2015

Beer and The Environment

Brewing is a fairly energy intensive process. There is significant heating and cooling in the process of brewing and getting beer ready to drink. On top of that, on the whole, it is a bulky product compared to higher ABV drinks. Transporting beer uses a fair bit of hydrocarbons, and if you think about it, mainly we are transporting water.

The original version of this figure was prepared
Robert A. Rohde from publicly available data,
and is incorporated into the
Global Warming Art project.
I follow this thing known as "Global Warming" - in particular because I'm a bit of a fan of messing around on frozen water. When I get a chance, and a bit of spare cash, I enjoy the occasional skiing trip. This summer just gone, and in what by now is becoming a dreamy distant memory as our British weather closes in around us on the run-up to Christmas, I enjoyed a thing often referred to as a "holiday" where Ann and I tramped on glaciers in the French Alps.

I first walked on a glacier in 1981, at the age of 16. I wouldn't expect the reader to understand how much enjoyment that brought me, or the many subsequent occasions since; It is one of those things that floats my boat very high and well above any spiritual plimsoll mark that I can emote in words. It is therefore a great worry that in my lifetime I have visibly seen the effects of climate change on the retreat of glaciers. It is happening, how much it is natural, and how much by man-made effect even the scientists find difficult to quantify.

Glacier d'Argentiere - Chamonix Valley, France
Heating brewing liquor to mash, then some more to sparge, and then raising the temperature to a boil,  keeping it boiling and losing volume by boiling, which is necessary for evaporation of volatiles, all use energy. All the time the process is losing heat as the liquor is kept upwards of 65 degrees for several hours. The then boiling wort needs to be cooled back down rapidly so that yeast can be pitched. A good system will recover the heat for reuse in the process, but there is still some waste.

The yeast, due to it's metabolism, generates heat as it ferments. This heat needs to be removed else the beer will overheat and nasty favours will result as the yeast gets stressed. It requires some energy, one way or another, to remove this heat. In general, despite me investigating ways to recover this heat for reuse, it is classed as "low grade" heat and not really re-usable.

We then chill the beer for packaging, and hold it at as low a temperature as possible for a while to improve the clarity and mature the beer. This takes energy and despite insulated tanks, without maintaining constant cooling, the beer would warm up again and risk being spoilt.

Our energy bill is too high. I expect most breweries worry about their energy bill. Due to our size I expect our energy bill is higher per litre brewed than many bigger breweries. Bigger tanks lose less heat per unit volume than smaller ones, for the same grade of insulation. Bigger breweries can more efficiently recover heat put into the process.

High energy bills also reflect back on CO2 emissions. There are other ways of doing it where the electricity supplier is paid to only supply green electricity. If you don't understand this, then ask Stringers, they know the deal, and buy into it whole heartedly1. I get it, and think it is a great idea, except for the slight problem that it puts up overheads because the energy costs more. I'm not convinced that the
vast majority of beer drinkers are grateful enough to pay more for the beer, although I'd like to think I'm wrong on that.

I'm interested in reducing the cost of our energy, and think it is the best way for us to improve our impact on the environment. By reducing costs we can plough back the savings into new and better equipment, upscale a little and so reduce our losses per litre. This will also improve our efficiency still further and so enable us to start to look at incorporating true renewable energy solutions that are cost neutral into our process. We have already been looking at Anaerobic Digestion, and I have a feasibility study on my desk, done for us by a student at Lancaster University, showing that with a bit of ingenuity, if partnering with an agricultural site it is possible to supplement heating with biogas.

I have a concept for a custom built brewery that is sited somewhere in Cumbria that makes use of any available renewable energy. Generally to make it work such a site would need to have the space necessary. Be it anaerobic digestion of our waste, coupled with farm waste, or be it biomass boilers, solar panels or wind turbines I don't really know. In any case, it might well be a dream too far as these things are well outside the financial resources we currently have.

But there it is, my dream, my real goal. This is one of the many things I'd like to do with Hardknott. I could keep it a secret, and hope that someone else doesn't realise this eventual dream before me, but they probably will beat me to it, and when they do, at least you know that I, along with other brewers I expect, had the dream.


1I am hopeful that the reader sees my mention of Stringers here as an endorsement of their ethos, rather than negative comment. They clearly are intent on doing what they believe is right. Their renewable credentials are important and I'm rather pleased to see their website now shows a somewhat more overt display of this important selling point.


Stonch said...

See Mill Green Brewery in Suffolk

Unknown said...

Thanks Mr Stonch, that looks a lot like my sort of concept. Not quite sure at this point in time how I'm going to achieve it, but looks like a research trip down there might be in order.

Stonch said...

I know the Nortons and would be happy to introduce you. I suspect they'll know your beer already. They to are fond of hops

Unknown said...

That would be more than brilliant. I'd be very interested to understand more about what they are doing.

Yvan Seth said...

Heh, they're a customer of mine ;)

Had a poke around their energy system myself... they've plans for upgrades to the brewing kit/etc too.

Can't remember if they've had any Hardknott via myself. Probably have.

[Why's your sodding blog making me use my Google account... ick.]

Unknown said...

Well, there we go. Perhaps I need to have a trip down to see what they are up to, and then convince them to buy more Hardknott too!!

Sorry about the Google account thing. I've had a little bit of bother with anonymous Trolls. I'd love to just let everyone comment freely, but there are always some who want to spoil it.

Yvan Seth said...

Additional: had a conversation on Twatblah about greenie stuff very recently. Interesting bit of info that came out of that was that Adnams have done a carbon footprint analysis of their brewing.

Adnams Beers’ Carbon Footprint

Adnams becomes first UK brewery to carbon footprint bottled beer range

Would def like to see more data on this, especially on the interesting subject of can-versus-bottle.