Bud maker busied with eco-energy drive

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Anheuser-busch

One in seven beers sold by Anheuser-Busch in the US will have been made with renewable energy come the end of 2009, as part of a environmental shake up of its operations in the country, the brewer says.

A total of 10 US breweries owned by the company will be adopting alternative energies such as biogas and solar energy, which it expects will power about 15 per cent of the group’s energy needs in the country.

The announcement comes as brewers find themselves under growing financial and regulatory pressure, like many in food and beverage production, to cut the environmental impact of their operations, as well as offsetting increased fuel costs. A number of the world’s largest beer makers have therefore moved to play up their green credentials in recent years.

Doug Muhleman, Anheuser-Busch’s vice president for brewing operations, claimed that the company’s pledge to power 15 per cent of its US energy needs from renewable sources by 2010 was part of a longstanding company commitment to the environment.

The company says that it is therefore looking into the wider potential of adopting various technologies such as wind, wood and solar power throughout its production chain.

Brewery shake-up

As part of it current environmental drive, Anheuser-Busch says that it is already installing new technologies to better utilise alternative energies at its sites in Houston and Fairfield, California.

At the Houston brewery, the company says that it will be using biogas, created naturally from waste decomposition at a nearby landfill, as a source of energy, while in California, solar panels will be installed.

Muhleman said that the company had entered into an agreement with Ameresco McCarty Energy to purchase biogas from Allied Waste Services’ McCarty Road Landfill in Houston for use at its nearby site.

“Some of the biogas from the McCarty Road Landfill is being captured, processed and sold to a local utility, while the excess is flared (burned without energy recovery),” ​he stated. “Ameresco plans to capture some of that unused biogas and transport it to the Anheuser-Busch brewery through a six-mile underground pipeline.”

In California, Anheuser-Busch says it has also partnered with SunEdison to work on a viable solar plant at its Fairfield brewery, which is expected to lead to the construction of a 1.18 megawatt (DC) photovoltaic system later in the summer.

“The solar energy system will generate the equivalent of approximately three per cent of the brewery’s electricity needs and also generate Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) for businesses or individuals to purchase to offset fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions,”​ the group stated.

In addition to this, both of the breweries will also be fitted with bio-energy recovery systems (BERS) that will allow for wastewater to be transformed into fuel.

Expanded focus

Aside from its breweries in California and Houston, the company claims that 10 of its twelve breweries currently operating in the US, will be making use of some form of renewable fuel, while an additional BERS system is planned for its plant in Williamsburg, Virginia, by next year.

The brewer says that it also has a long standing tradition for recycling a number of materials such as beechwood chips, plastic, glass cullet, cardboard and metal. This stems back to a longstanding tradition of reusing brewers grain for cattle feed, according to the company.

Rival focus

However, Anheuser-Busch is not alone in its aspirations to position itself as a green brewer, with a number of rivals also pledging to cut their environmental impacts.

Australia-based Foster's said earlier this year that it was launching what its called a sustainably produced and packaged premium beer brand for its domestic market, known as Cascade Green.

The beer, which is made by the group's Tasmania-based subsidiary Cascade Brewery, has obtained certification from the Australian Government's Department of Climate Change as being a greenhouse friendly product. Cascade said that it achieved the certification following extensive independently verified Lifecycle Analysis of the production line for the beer.

SABMiller says it has also has set out commitments to greater environmental protection through its operations. The pledge, which includes measures to cut carbon emissions and water use at its production sites, is part of a wider 10 step responsibility initiative by the group.

Green view

Some environmental groups have welcomed this apparent environmental concern from the industry, which they suggest has been forced to follow the lead of other beverage makers.

In April, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) told BeveverageDaily.com that brewers were increasingly following the examples set by other beverage manufacturers in cutting down on the environmental impacts of their production cycles.

Dax Lovegrove, WWF's head of business and industry relations, claimed that while there has been more pressure on manufacturers of highly recognisable soft drink brands to ensure sustainable practices, most brewers were now realising the importance of environmentally friendly manufacture.

"Climate change alone exacerbates a number of problems currently facing beer making,"​ he said. "Water use in particular is a major threat, especially for brewers in dry regions, who are more reliant on a sustainable supply of the resource."

Environmental industry challenges

However, beyond the current focus on manufacturing processes, Lovegrove claimed that there were a number of additional areas for brewers to focus on, particularly in locating future bottling plants.

"Better policies are needed especially in avoiding starting up business in dry areas where water supply is limited,"​ he stated. "Breweries need to be a lot more sensitive on how they are using local resources, with close attention to the surrounding wildlife."

Sourcing of ingredients like brewer's grains, which are traditionally thirsty crops, was another key issue that beer makers had yet to fully evaluate, according to the WWF.

"Ingredients are one area that really needs to be addressed particularly with a view to irrigation techniques, if the industry is to meet the challenges."

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