December 2012, Vol. 24, No.12

Brewers getting crafty about reducing water, energy use

When a major brewer wants to cut water or energy consumption, it might invest in next-generation anaerobic digestion systems or study ways to wring new savings from its supply chain.

A craft brewer, on the other hand, might simply change the nozzles on its bottle-cleaning equipment.

"No matter what their size, brewers are interested in the same thing: putting out a barrel of beer with the smallest possible footprint,” said John Stier, a 30-year Anheuser–Busch Cos. (St. Louis) veteran who now does environmental and sustainability consulting at Antea Group (St. Paul, Minn.).

“The difference is in their approach,” Stier explained. “Craft brewers don’t have the budgets or the economies of scale that big brewers have. They’re more like old-time car mechanics. They know every inch of their operations and are willing to tinker. Their innovations tend to be simple but effective.”

They are also willing to share their successes. This is why 80 members of the craft brewing industry in early October converged on the Wrigleyville Pub in Chicago, which is owned by the Goose Island Beer Co. (Chicago). There, at the fifth Great Lakes Water Conservation Conference, brewers heard Stier and others swap lessons on everything from tank-cleaning processes to onsite wastewater treatment to alternative energy approaches.


Small changes produce big savings

Originally created for brewers affected by The Great Lakes Compact, which requires water-intensive businesses within the watershed to implement water conservation practices, the Great Lakes conference now attracts craft brewers from places as far-flung as Japan, California, and Colorado, according to Lucy Saunders, the conference’s organizer. Most are interested in water conservation for reasons that are both philosophical and financial.

Many craft breweries are run by people with a sincere interest in conservation and sustainability, Stier said. “But let’s face it, whatever they do has to also make good business sense,” he said.

Many are looking for ways to combat the rapidly rising cost of water. In Chicago alone, water rates jumped 25% at the beginning of 2012, with additional hikes of 15% planned for each of the next 3 years.Rate increases of this magnitude are felt by craft brewers, which consume an average of 19 to 23 L (5 to 6 gal) of water for every 3.8 L (1 gal) of beer they produce.

A portion of this water, of course, goes into the beer itself. “Even a beer that has 10% alcohol is still 90% water,” noted Larry Bennett of Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, N.Y.

There is little that brewers can do to change this. What they can change is the amount of water they use to clean their process equipment and packaging lines, where three-quarters of their water goes down the drain.

“Little things that don’t seem like much can really add up in the long run,” noted Ian Hughes, environmental and safety coordinator at Goose Island Beer, which began implementing water conservation projects in 2009.

Goose Island, for example, cut by 70% the water needed to sanitize the wooden wine barrels it uses to age some of its beers. The brewer formerly cleaned its 1500 wine barrels by filling each with about 320 L (85 gal) of 82ºC (180ºF) water, Hughes said. Switching to a steam sanitation process cut water consumption to about 98 L (26 gal) per barrel, saving 335,000 L (88,500 gal) of water a year.

The brewery saves an additional 946,000 L (250,000 gal) a year as a result of refining the process it uses to clean its brewing tanks. “We found that the chemicals and hot water we used to clean the tanks did such a great job that the final rinsewater came out clean,” Hughes explained. Instead of sending that clean water down the drain, the brewery now uses it as the initial rinse for the next tank in line.

The brewery achieved its greatest return on investment, however, on a change that cost about $200. By simply reducing the size of the spray nozzle on its bottle rinsers, workers produced a more efficient spray and reduced the amount of water consumed in the process by 60%, or 3.8 million L/yr (1 million gal/yr) of water, Hughes said.

Thanks to these and other efforts, the 230,000-barrel/yr brewery currently uses 21 L (5.5 gal) of water to produce 3.8 L (1 gal) of beer, about 3.8 L (1 gal) less than the industry average.

Taking the next step

New Belgium Brewery (Fort Collins, Colo.) is even farther down the path toward sustainability. It currently requires only 15 L (4 gal) of water to produce 3.8 L (1 gal) of beer, according to Katie Wallace, sustainability specialist for the 3-million-L/yr (800,000-gal/yr) craft brewer, the nation’s third largest.

In New Belgium’s case, the push to conserve water is driven by more than just a desire to save money. As with other brewers in the arid U.S. West and Southeast, its owners are concerned about the reliability of the local water supply.

“Every place we use water, we think twice about it,” Wallace said. Recognizing that it can’t manage what it doesn’t measure, New Belgium has installed water meters throughout its operations to see where water is being lost and identify processes that might be made more efficient. Periodic brainstorming sessions with production workers are conducted to ferret out fresh ideas.

The solutions the brewery has implemented so far are wide-ranging. New Belgium saves 3.8 million L/yr (1 million gal/yr) of water, for example, by collecting the water used to rinse the inside of its bottles and then reusing it on the final exterior rinse, Wallace said. Additional water is saved by using a dry process rather than a wet lubrication system to keep bottles upright as they roll down the conveyor.

“We’re constantly changing our process, trying to decrease usage,” Wallace said.

Not every change, however, results in savings. Water usage, in fact, went up a couple of years ago when New Belgium began to brew a “hoppier” beer, Wallace said. Resin from the hops clung to brewery pipes, which then required additional cleaning. After workers optimized the system, water usage went back down, Wallace said.

New Belgium also is following in larger brewers’ footsteps with efforts to reduce its energy footprint. It was one of the nation’s first brewers to invest in a new kind of cone-shaped brew kettle that requires half the energy of conventional kettles. The Steinecker Merlin brew kettle saves energy by boiling thin sheets of wort — unfermented beer — instead of heating the entire kettle at once, Wallace explained. Steam released during the brewing process is recaptured and stored for the next batch, enabling the kettle to boil again more quickly.

The brewery further cuts its energy bill by producing about 14% of its own power using methane gas produced as a byproduct of its onsite wastewater treatment.

New Belgium added the wastewater treatment plant, Wallace said, when it learned that Fort Collins was planning an expansion to the city’s wastewater treatment plant. “The city told us we could either help pay for their facility or pretreat our wastewater ourselves,” she said. “We chose to invest in our own facility.”

New best practice guides will help

While interest is growing, onsite wastewater pretreatment and waste-to-energy programs are still the exception rather than the rule among smaller brewers, Stier noted.

With many hats to juggle, many are investing where they can. Many reduce their biochemical oxygen demand by shipping their liquid yeast and other sugar- and protein-laden wastes to local farmers for use as fertilizers or as animal feed supplements. Last year, for example, Goose Island sent 726,000 kg (1.6 million lb) of spent grain to a farm in northwestern Indiana. “That’s waste that would otherwise have gone straight to a landfill,” Hughes said.

Motion sensors have been added to decrease lighting costs throughout the Goose Island brewery. High-speed bay doors are designed to raise and lower quickly to limit the loss of cold air from the brewery’s coolers.

“We’re a work in progress,” Hughes said. “We continue to look for opportunities to implement projects that make us more sustainable.”

Soon, the more than 2000 craft brewers in the United States will have a new source they can turn to for help. Stier is working with the Brewers Association (Boulder, Colo.) to develop a series of best practice manuals for craft brewers interested in sustainability.

“Big brewers have been on a path to a closed-loop brewery for years,” Stier said. “By consciously building a sustainable culture from the ground up, craft brewers are following right behind.”

— Mary Bufe, WE&T 

Conservation offers benefits, challenges for water and wastewater agencies

Lower water use by customers helps utilities save money but can reduce revenues and cause operational complications

This summer, WaterSense, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) program, released an updated version of its specifications for new homes. Intended to reduce water use in new homes by 20%, the specifications include criteria for water-conserving toilets, showerheads, and other indoor water fixtures, in addition to criteria related to outdoor water use and homeowner education. The new specifications represent another advance in the long-running effort to conserve water in communities throughout the United States. For drinking water and wastewater agencies, the growing trend toward water conservation represents an opportunity to achieve greater efficiencies and savings while reducing costs associated with system expansions. However, water conservation can reduce utility revenues while also potentially leading to complications for wastewater collection and treatment systems. As a result, water and wastewater agencies must carefully evaluate the benefits and possible costs associated with increased water conservation.


Expanding the WaterSense program

Begun in 2006, EPA’s WaterSense program involves a partnership with manufacturers, distributors, retailers, home builders, irrigation professionals, and utilities to promote the use of water-efficient products and practices. All told, EPA estimates that products labeled as part of the WaterSense program have helped consumers conserve 1.1 billion m3 (287 billion gal) of water and $4.7 billion in water and energy bills between 2006 and 2011, the most recent year for which figures are available. Whereas the WaterSense program in general aims to encourage consumers to upgrade their existing water fixtures to make them more efficient, the specifications for new homes are intended to ensure that residences employ the most water-efficient products and practices from the beginning. Homes constructed in compliance with the WaterSense specifications can save a family of four up to 190 m3 (50,000 gal) of water annually, compared to traditional homes, according to EPA.

Released in late August, EPA’s Version 1.1 WaterSense New Home Specification takes effect Jan. 1. The “most significant change” in the new specification is its expansion to include residential units in certain multifamily buildings, said Veronica Blette, chief of EPA’s WaterSense branch. By contrast, the original 2009 version only applied to new single-family homes. Furthermore, the new specification also requires that homes bearing the WaterSense label include certain high-efficiency showerheads, while landscapes of certified homes must be designed by means of a “water budget tool” developed by EPA, Blette said. The new specifications also were updated to include additional products that have become eligible for the WaterSense label since 2009.

To date, more than 150 homes in nine states have received the WaterSense label; most are located in California, Florida, and Texas, Blette said. Although apartments and condominiums are now eligible for inclusion, EPA does not have an estimate for the number of such units likely to be labeled as part of the WaterSense program. However, the recent trend toward greater construction of multifamily units could bode well for the program. “Because the multifamily sector is healthier than that for single-family homes in many parts of the country, we are hopeful that builders will incorporate WaterSense into their building plans,” Blette said.

Some water agencies are taking an active role to encourage builders to construct new homes as part of the WaterSense program. For example, Colorado Springs (Colo.) Utilities (CSU) worked with a builder in 2011 to facilitate construction of the first home in the state to be certified as part of the WaterSense program, said Frank Kinder, CSU’s senior water conservation specialist. Going a step further, CSU is launching a rebate program “to incentivize additional builders” to provide WaterSense-labeled homes, Kinder said. This program complements CSU’s existing efforts to promote conservation by providing WaterSense-labeled showerheads to residential customers and offering highly efficient prerinse spray valves to commercial kitchens. Combined, the giveaways reduced water demand by approximately 121,000 m3 (32 million gal) annually.

Continuing a long-term trend

Of course, water conservation is not new, and the WaterSense program is simply part of a larger, long-term trend that has seen declining rates of residential water use across the country. Such declines have occurred largely as a result of increased use of water-efficient appliances and fixtures, especially toilets. The article, “Residential water use trends in North America” by Thomas D. Rockaway, Paul A. Coomes, Joshua Rivard, and Barry Kornstein in the February 2011 Journal AWWA, reported the results of a study in which the authors found evidence of a “pervasive” decline in residential water use nationally and regionally. On average, a household in 2008 used 44,201 L/yr (11,678 gal/yr) less than an identical household in 1978, according to the study.

For its part, American Water Works Co. Inc. (American Water; Voorhees, N.J.) has seen an average annual decline in per-customer water consumption of 1% to 2% during the past decade, said Margie Hunter, project manager in the company’s Engineering Asset Planning Department and chair of its conservation committee. Such declines reflect active conservation efforts in water-stressed regions, as well as passive conservation nationwide resulting from federal regulations requiring the use of more-efficient appliances and fixtures, she said.

Benefits and drawbacks for utilities

Undoubtedly, water conservation is a boon for society in general, conferring numerous benefits, both ecological and fiscal. For example, conservation efforts help preserve future supplies, maintain flows in rivers and streams for wildlife, and reduce costs for consumers. In many ways, water and wastewater utilities also benefit from water conservation. In particular, conserving existing water resources helps utilities become better positioned to deal with potential problems, Kinder said. “In changing supply scenarios, increasing costs, and drought uncertainty, efficiency allows for doing more with less,” he said. “Essentially, efficiency maximizes the existing infrastructure through meeting additional customer needs through current pipes and pumps.”

By obviating the need to acquire, treat, and convey new water supplies, a utility can experience significant savings, Kinder noted. At the same time, conservation enables utilities to benefit from reduced requirements related to energy and chemical consumption.

For wastewater agencies, decreased water use can result in something of a mixed blessing, said Steven Yeats, vice president and chief engineer at the engineering consulting firm Jones Edmunds and Associates Inc. (Gainesville, Fla.). “There will be benefits as well as impacts to wastewater collection, treatment, [and] disposal systems and to the biosolids treatment and disposal systems,” Yeats said. Because of the highly variable nature of wastewater collection and treatment systems, any effects resulting from decreased flows will be site-specific. For example, a collection system experiencing low levels of infiltration/inflow might experience increased odors and solids deposition, Yeats said. On the other hand, an older collection system that was designed without adequate considerations for infiltration/inflow may benefit as a result of decreased flows.

As for wastewater treatment facilities, lower flows per customer enable utilities to serve more customers overall, Yeats noted. “However, the biological wastewater treatment systems and associated biosolids systems will likely need to be upgraded for higher organic loading rates than conventionally designed for,” he said. Such upgrades may be needed because pollutant loads to treatment facilities remain essentially the same, even though influent volumes may decrease. But any upgrades must be evaluated carefully in light of anticipated decreases resulting from conservation.

“For utilities planning to serve a larger and growing water-conserving customer base with new collection and treatment facilities, a careful analysis must be made for the predicted reduced flows and higher organic and solids loadings,” Yeats said.

Conservation’s greatest effect on wastewater agencies may be financial. Because wastewater rates typically are derived on the basis of how much potable water is used by a customer, those customers who conserve water are paying less to have the same amount of pollutants removed from the wastestream and disposed of, Yeats noted. “In general, billing water and wastewater services based solely on potable water volume use, for example, may not capture the costs of these water-conserving customers properly,” he said.

Water and wastewater agencies face a “conundrum” when it comes to the financial effects of water conservation, said Gary Naumick, senior director of engineering at American Water. Although water conservation provides clear benefits, the concomitant reduction in revenues means utilities have a harder time paying for fixed costs associated with such functions as customer service and water sampling and testing, Naumick said. Of course, declining revenues also complicate efforts to address challenges associated with aging infrastructure, he said.

Rate adjustments needed

Faced with such economic realities, water and wastewater agencies must become “more nimble and creative” as to how they set rates, said Adam Krantz, managing director of government and public affairs for the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (Washington, D.C.).

EPA’s Blette agreed. “Many utilities are challenged by their use of water-pricing models that rely on water sales to provide revenue rather than setting rates that reflect the full fixed costs of providing service,” she said. “Utilities must undertake analysis to determine how their rate structures may need to be changed to avoid the potential for reduced revenue from less consumption.”

— Jay Landers, WE&T 

©2012 Water Environment Federation. All rights reserved.