New Belgium sets goal to cut water use

Craig Skinner, plant engineer for New Belgium Brewing Co., sees the craft brewer’s rapid growth as an opportunity to use technology to help the environment.

“As you grow, your impact grows and trying to keep that at the same level is difficult,” Skinner said. “But it also provides more opportunity for new ideas and innovation for sustainable practices.”

Among its newest approaches: a more environmentally friendly canning line and a better water-use monitoring system.

New Belgium has grown substantially through the years since its beginning in a Fort Collins basement in 1991. Last year, the company brewed 712,000 barrels of beer, an 8 percent increase from the year before. New Belgium expects similar growth this year.

To its credit, environmental stewardship is among the company’s core values, and it has used technology to achieve that objective. New Belgium pays more for its power generated by fossil fuels to fund wind farms in Wyoming and Colorado. The company also installed a 200-kilowatt-hour photovoltaic solar array and maintains a fleet of about 40 hybrid vehicles.

In addition, it coordinated with the U.S. Department of Energy and multiple tech firms to develop a smart grid that monitors company generators burning methane-rich biogas.

Waste from the brewing process discharges biogas, which the company captures in balloons. When burned by a blended-fuel generator, the biogas produces electricity. And the exhaust generates heat that New Belgium uses for brewing.

“It’s just another great example of grabbing waste heat that would just otherwise go out to the atmosphere,” Skinner said.

As New Belgium grows, brewing will lead to more waste. But that means the company will produce more biogas to replace more of its natural-gas use.

In the most recent development on this front, New Belgium has installed a new canning line with the environment in mind.

The old line allowed more oxygen into cans, which can give beer an off flavor. In the new line, New Belgium injects less carbon dioxide into its cans because of a reduced amount of oxygen in those cans in the first place. That will lessen emissions of carbon dioxide, which, of course, is a greenhouse gas.

New Belgium is looking at how it could do even better.
It currently uses about 4.2 hectoliters of water for every hectoliter of beer produced, Skinner said. A hectoliter is 100 liters.

Water is central to New Belgium’s operation: It’s used in everything from brewing to cleaning. The company maintains a goal of reducing its water usage to 3.5 hectoliters for every hectoliter of beer.

At the moment, “we’re getting farther and farther away from that goal,” Skinner said.

He explained that new equipment accommodating the brewer’s growth uses more water. Currently, it is less efficient because it has yet to run at capacity.

That’s where technology can assist. The company will soon use two kinds of water meters that more precisely measure its water use.

With that information recorded in a database, the company hopes eventually to determine what steps it can take to reduce its water use.

Steve Lynn covers Technology for the Northern Colorado Business Report. He can be contacted at slynn@ncbr.com.

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