Brewing Up Change in Water Treatment Technology

With water forming one of the four key components of beer, the brewing industry is leading the charge on the use of advanced water treatment technologies that are supporting the sector's environmental and economic goals.

Beer 1
Beer 1
From 2010 to 2012, Carlsberg reduced energy consumption by 10% while water consumption fell by 5%.

With water forming one of the four key components of beer, the brewing industry is leading the charge on the use of advanced water treatment technologies that are supporting the sector's environmental and economic goals.

By David Appleyard

Cheers! Na zdravi! Prost! Whatever your chosen dialect or your favourite drink, raise a glass to the brewing industry, because it is pioneering the introduction and use of advanced water treatment technologies.

Driven chiefly by the demands of corporate social responsibility, improving water consumption performance also yields significant economic benefits, in particular reducing water consumption almost always infers that less energy will be used too.

This is not just related to heating process water – in the case of beer typically only the final product is boiled. Yet there are significant demands for energy for water heating in other aspects of the brewing process, for example the cleaning of bottles and kegs. And on average around 70% of the fresh water intake of a brewery ends up as effluent

Indeed, major brewers have been driven to improve and invest in optimisation by the demands of the consumers and the expectation of shareholders.

For instance Carlsberg formalised its CSR strategy in 2008 and in 2012 the group was the most efficient global brewer in terms of water and energy consumption - on average using 3.3 pints of water per pint of beer – according to the latest available figures.

From 2010 to 2012, Carlsberg reduced energy consumption by 10% while water consumption fell by 5%. Targets for 2013 of 3.2 hectolitres (hl = 100 litres) were disclosed in the 2012 CSR report and the company says that preliminary results indicate they are on track to meet these goals.

Carlsberg says that factors contributing to the progress it made in 2012 include equipment upgrades, optimised cleaning procedures and increased use of recycled water for non-production activities. These measures led to water consumption reductions of 12% at the Northampton Brewery in the UK, 11% at the Kashi Brewery in China and 10% at the Baltika Khabarovsk Brewery in Russia. However, water consumption at a number of other breweries increased, which meant the consolidated efficiency rate was unchanged in 2012.

Heineken is another one of the major brewery companies that is investing in new technology to reduce water consumption.

In its 2012 sustainability report, again the most recent available, it revealed its progress in the three years since it launched its 'Brewing a Better Future' programme - in which protecting water resources and reducing CO2 emissions are two key parameters.

The company says it is on target to achieve the goals set for 2020 related to the water and energy efficiency of its breweries. It set a target of reducing the amount of water from 5.1 hl per hl of beer produced in 2008 to 3.7 hl in 2020. By 2012 Heineken says it reached a specific water consumption of 4.2 hl/hl against a target of less than 4.3 hl/hl and has set a 2015 target of 3.9 hl/hl.

In energy use, the company's goal is to reduce the direct and indirect CO2 emissions from fossil fuels from 10.4 kg/hl in 2008 to 6.4 kg/hl in 2020.

An example of its use of new technology to achieve these goals is seen, for example, through its funding of a pilot project that is using algae to recover phosphates from effluent from its Zoeterwoude brewery in the Netherlands.

The Algae Food & Fuel and Wageningen University and Research project demonstrated not only that algae grow rapidly in the wastewater, but also that almost 90% of nitrogen and phosphorous components could be removed, making subsequent treatment far easier. Two algae photo-bioreactors have since been installed at the brewery's wastewater plant.

New technology in brewing

While decades ago breweries would have used perhaps six or even seven litres of water per litre of beer - smaller operations in particular tended to be more wasteful. Over the last 20 years there has been a general trend for breweries to use five litres or less. Some, as we've seen, are looking at a target of less than four.

Like yeast, barley and hops, water is the obvious fourth and essential component in the final product and breweries focus a lot of attention on both sourcing this raw material and on its quality. Inevitably the production and processing of high quality water is a critical factor, due to its influence on both the production process - for example, yeast requires mineral elements such potassium, sodium and calcium for optimum fermentation – and on the taste of the final product.

Aside from these requirements, there is legislation governing water quality parameters in such industries, obliging brewers to use drinking quality water for most processes.

Solving these individual challenges has taken a number of routes. For instance some larger breweries are attempting to optimise production through centralisation, while in some water stressed regions particular attention has been paid to water use and sourcing.

However, over the intervening years it has become increasingly clear that the 'low-hanging fruit' has now long-since been exploited. Achieving further significant gains and meeting increasingly stringent targets effectively means that process water must be reused or recycled in some way, a trend which is also being seen in other similar production sectors such as the soft drink manufacturing giants.

Beer Membrane Filtration

In the brewing sector, a very important development in this respect has been brought about through beer filtration. For centuries a diatomaceous earth, kieselguhr, a fine silica clay made from the exoskeletons of microscopic diatoms - has been used in the clarification process, to filter yeast from the beer. This material has a very limited lifespan and is a major waste stream from breweries.

Several companies have been working on alternatives using membrane filtration and ultra-filtration technologies, such as America's Pall Corporation and its Cluster Filtration System (CFS). By far the market leader is Pentair, following its May 2011 acquisition of Dutch filtration technology firm X-Flow, itself a 1984 spin-out from the University Twente based on a recipe to produce robust hollow fibre membranes.

Sjoerd van der Sterren, head of marketing & business intelligence within the company's Food & Beverage Process Solutions division, explains that in recent years Beer Membrane Filtration (BMF) has gained significant market share as an alternative to diatomaceous earth. Since its introduction in 2002, all major brewing groups have installed membrane technology and the company boasts more than 50 worldwide references, with some 60 million hl of beer filtered using BMF each year.

The Pentair system uses polyethersulfone hollow fibre membranes with a pore size of 0.5 µm and a diameter of 1.5 mm. About 2,800 individual membranes are fixed in a module. To prevent turbid particles, which are mainly yeast cells, from forming a "cake layer" a cross-flow is applied perpendicular to the beer flow through the pores in the membrane. According to van der Sterren, the membranes have a typical service life of 400 run-cycles before they need to be replaced.

Industry Comment

Jan Peerboom, an international water industry expert formerly with Veolia, points out this development is barely significant in terms of a brewery's overall water needs, but it does nonetheless demonstrate that brewery companies are adopting innovative approaches to their industry.

"For quite some time, breweries have been in the forefront of introducing new process water production techniques," he says.

Indeed, according to Peerboom, by adopting membrane filtration these companies have taken a big step forward in becoming more familiar with membrane technologies in general and by doing so, have paved the way for the introduction and use of membranes elsewhere in the brewery in water production and recycling or reuse.

"Although they do not directly influence water consumption, they can change the mindset of the operator about the technology: "If it's good to clarify our beer then it's also good to recycle and reuse our water," says Peerboom.

Membrane technologies in brewing

Pressure driven membrane processes in the brewing industry are increasingly being applied in other processes such as caustic recovery and process and wastewater treatment. According to Henk Schonewille from the Engineered Membrane Systems arm of Pentair: "Because of that, the effluent of the membranes can be reused in the brewery, in processes ranging from bottle/keg cleaning, service water to boiler feed water. Based on that, [a] re-use ratio of up to 50% is achievable."

There is clear evidence of the growing use of such technologies in the brewing industry, even among the smaller players.

For example in late 2013 the UK's Westons Cider revealed that the use of a RO water treatment system from Spirax Sarco was saving the company some £42,000 (EUR60,000) per year in fuel and water costs for its boiler, a 2,000kg/h unit producing steam for various process duties, including pasteurisation and cleaning.

The RO system achieved saving by cutting the amount of boiler blow down and water needed to prevent dissolved solids from accumulating in the boiler, where they can cause problems such as foaming and scale. A cut in blowdown from 3% to less than 1% has been achieved, the company says.

And in Venezuela, when a further extension was needed to meet production demands, the Polar brewery found the availability of water a serious challenge. They became one of the first in the world to use a technology which uses UF membrane modules positioned on the exterior of a bioreactor to treat process water.

Pentair's Membrane BioReactor (MBR) combines biological treatment, dealing with the dissolved 'waste' by bacteria and membranes to further treat the water. By recycling this wastewater in the cleaning and rinsing process, the brewery could increase production while waste water charges were also diminished.

Water in stressed areas

Aside from gains in environmental and economic performance, a key driver behind the use of advanced water treatment technologies in brewing is development in water-stressed regions, where water efficiency presents a premium opportunity for the use of advanced technologies to reduce specific consumption.

For example, in mid-2012 Pentair signed an agreement to supply membrane modules for Sigma Water Malaysia, the OEM partner to design a water treatment installation at the Nile Breweries in Uganda, a subsidiary of SABMiller. Pentair UF modules will be used to produce 140 m3/hour of high-quality process water from surface water and are being used to both lower production costs and meet growing water supply challenges through the use of surface water instead of potable water.

More recently, in December 2013, Heineken signed a Public Private Partnership (PPP) with Vitens Evides International, the Harari People Regional State (HPRS), Acacia Water and Royal Haskoning among others that should see the start of a sustainable water services project in Harar Regional State in Ethiopia.

Co-funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs through the Sustainable Water Fund, the PPP's objective is to ensure long-term water availability in Harar where over 300,000 people are currently facing water shortages. The project, has been running since April 2013 and will continue until March 2017, focusing on a number of targets, most notably the creation of water access for 50,000 people.

Bioelectric technology

An even more advanced approach to water conservation and treatment comes from Cambrian Innovation and a technology spun out of MIT in 2006.

This year California-based Bear Republic Brewing Company, Inc., unveiled a novel water treatment system at its brewery in Cloverdale that employs a proprietary bioelectric technology to treat wastewater and generate biogas, enabling capacity expansion in a water stressed area of the state. Bear Republic is the second brewery to purchase the system in which electrically active microorganisms eliminate 80-90% of the biological oxygen demand (BOD) but also convert carbon dioxide directly into a biogas that can be used on-site to generate both heat and power.

The system, known as EcoVolt, is expected to deliver an annual return on investment of more than 25% and eliminate more than half of the site's baseload electricity use. In addition, it will supply more than 10% of the facility's requirements with recycled water, the company says.

The first installation took place at Lagunitas Brewing Company in Petaluma, also in California, in November last year. Previously, Lagunitas transported its 189 m3/day of high-strength wastewater to East Bay Municipal Utility District (MUD), requiring over 3000 truck journeys a year.

Looking ahead, Peerboom says: "The trend is that breweries will all go for recycling and reuse of water and that could mean that they go from the performance indicator of three litres per litre they could go down to 2.5 or 2.2."

Certainly there is clear evidence that major breweries are investing in advanced water treatment technologies and that smaller breweries will also win from this approach. Breweries are not very diverse - the process is largely the same the world over - so technologies that are successful in a large brewery will be transferred to smaller breweries quite rapidly.

Having reached its maximum potential, the brewery industry is quickly leaving conventional solutions behind in favour of new technologies that satisfy increasingly tough demands on environmental performance.

So, next time your drink a refreshingly tasty mouthful through the foamy head of your favourite and no doubt delicious brew, you can feel especially good about it.

After all, at that moment you really are helping to further the development of advanced water treatment technologies. Cheers!


David Appleyard is a freelance journalist focusing on the energy, technology and process sectors. He can be contacted at: David_J_Appleyard@hotmail.com

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