Beer Becomes Green!
Beer is essentially a healthy product, given the very natural quality of its raw materials. Nevertheless, beer production raises many issues. The use of great amounts of water on the one hand and the impact of worldwide shipping on the other leave both a significant ecological footprint.
In the past, industrial beer production has made extensive use of water from springs and rivers. Additionally, large crops of barley and wheat have been associated with the use of fertilizers in the fields (this is also true for bread production), not to mention the environmental and energy impact of packaging manufacturing and of transportation to increasingly distant locations as the success of these beverages continue to grow.
Since becoming aware of the risks associated to global warming and the uncontrolled use of resources, many companies, including breweries, have made enormous efforts to reduce their energy and environmental impact, with brewers setting an example and leading the way. Today, there is technology available to help brewers address these concerns, as a result of ongoing research and the help of major institutions, such as the European Union. Important investments are being made by large groups, including companies like Inbev or Carlsberg. For example, this famous brewery is currently setting up (with the help of the EU) a CO2 capture process in the fermentation tanks, without ECO2Brew and without water consumption. The gas recovered is re-used for the gasification of other beverages and reduces energy consumption by 20%.
An Industry that is Becoming Cleaner and More Economical
In Belgium, several medium-sized breweries, such as Chimay, Martens Brewing Co. or the Anthony Martin group, and in particular the Timmermans Brewery, have also made significant efforts to reduce their carbon footprint, by adopting reusable packaging (up to 35 reuse of the same bottle or kegs, for example), drastically reducing the energy required for brewing (using solar energy, wind turbines or biomass), choosing more sustainable transport solutions including purchases of raw materials in large volumes and using greener means such as EcoTrucks, train or inland waterways. Additionally, many Belgian breweries have high performing wastewater treatment plants to recover water used in cleaning the tanks. By-products such as distillers grains provide food to livestock.
According to the annual report of the National Belgian Brewing Federation, the efforts of its members are clearly the result of an active environmental consciousness. The figures speak for themselves: the brewing industry contributes about 25 million Euros to the Belgian government on returnable and non-returnable packaging. 74% of the beer sold by the brewing industry was sold in recyclable packaging (kegs, bottles, cases). In 20 years, the volume of water used for manufacturing was also reduced from an average of 10-20 litres per litre of beer to 6 litres, and 3.5 litres in modern breweries such as Martens.
The next challenge for breweries is the water used in the manufacturing and cleaning processes; in particular the development of efficient filtering methods to recreate potable water for the cleaning and rinsing operations. Another challenge lies in the development of facilities running on biogas, a green energy for the future. In Belgium there are pioneer breweries in this field that have developed high-performance facilities where unused water during brewing is purified by using bacteria which produces methane and CO2. This gas is later transformed into electricity, which significantly reduces the energy impact of manufacturing.
These few examples show how the brewing industry, and the Belgian industry in particular, is concretely engaged in a race to improve performance and product quality in terms of pureness, taste and positive environmental impact. Brewers also know that innovation, optimization and resource protection is the long-term key to preserve the genuineness of a terroir, while satisfying customer demand at a reasonable cost