Microbrewery uses its own by-products to keep beer flowing

Brewing biomass.
Credit: PFSK

Necessity was the mother of invention for the Alaskan Brewing Company, which being isolated from the lower 48 needed to find alternative ways to save on the costs of brewing and recycling by-products. Traditional solutions proved expensive, so the team looked at what they had on hand as a power source. What they had on hand was a lot of spent grain so they came up with a way to use it to fuel their boilers.

When beer is brewed, the malt and barley grains leave behind a soggy pile of biomass. The traditional way to recycle this biomass is to dry it and ship it to local farmers for use in feeding livestock. Some brewers even contribute their biomass to producing ethanol for cars.

Recycling is great, but being so far removed from the rest of the country it was costing the Alaskan Brewing Company more in prepping and shipping costs to get it to its destination. The bean counters at the brewery recognised over the long term the inflated costs would eat into their bottom line. They wondered if they could use the biomass as fuel for their boilers, which would still let them stay green and lean on costs. The Federal Rural Energy for America Program gave them nearly half a million dollars in funding to help them implement the idea.

The result was a $1.8 million industrial furnace developed with the help from a company in North Dakota. The furnace burns the dried spent grains creating and capturing steam which is able to power their entire facility. The brewery expects harnessing steam - something that is often lost in the brewing process - will offset their energy costs by a substantial 70% and will pay for the specialised furnace in under five years.

For a smaller company like a microbrewery this kind of savings in operating costs provides a competitive advantage in a crowded market. The Alaskan Brewing Company uses biomass as its sole fuel source for its energy recovery system which gives it an edge over those other companies that only use it as a co-fuel.

The innovation ticks a lot of the right boxes for success - it will save the company money over time, it lets them keep their eco-friendly mandate intact by recycling on site, and it gives them a slogan that's pretty hard to beat.

Beer Powered Beer sounds pretty good doesn't it?