Brewer says cost key hurdle for biofuel aspirations

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Carbon dioxide Brewers

Cost will remain the key setback in adopting greener brewing initiatives like using spent yeast, brewing waste and even vegetable fats as alternative fuels, claims one brewer hoping to pioneer such technologies.

The California-based Sierra Nevada Brewing company says that it will be extending its alternative fuel focuses, such as using biodiesel to fuel its deliveries, with a new investment to create ethanol from yeast for its gasoline-powered vehicles. Additional focuses may later take place to test for any potential use of the fuel in the plant itself, said the company.

Cheri Chastain,​sustainability coordinator for the brewer told that for smaller beer makers in particular, investment capital remained the only significant difficulty for adopting similar fuelling initiatives.

A variety of global brewers like SABMiller and Foster’s have been attempting to play up sustainable production efforts in a bid to enter into a new segment for so-called ‘green beer’. Alternate fuels and energy sources like solar power have been just some of a wider number of solutions being piloted by the industry to date.

Ethanol use

In Sierra Nevada’s own operations, Chastain claims that the group have attempted various methods designed to its environmental impacts by looking to energy sources.

While Ethanol production from waste materials may be nothing new for larger brewers, Chastain suggests that the use of the material for fuel was an innovative step for brewers.

“We will be using the spent yeast as well as unsatisfactory beer to produce ethanol using the E-Fuel 100,”​ she stated.

Chastain added that in producing biofuels through yeast by-product, the company would also have a major substitute to offset its reliance on fossils fuel.

The costs of investment for adapting the biofuel system that will be used by the group, which is provided by Californian technology supplier E-Fuel, was currently unknown to the group.

However, the company said that it remained confident that the system would work out favourably by allowing it to create value from the spent yeast product, where there had previously been little, if any, cost benefit.

Conversion challenge

Sierra Nevada conceded that, unlike its decision last year to fuel its delivery services with biodiesel derived from vegetable oil,​additional conversion may be necessary to allow some vehicles to run on ethanol.

Chastain said she was therefore unsure what processes and cost may be incurred to adapt using ethanol in the group’s operations.

“I am actually not sure that we will be able to use the ethanol in our diesel delivery fleet; but we can most likely use it in our smaller, gasoline powered company vehicles,”​ she stated.

Green beer

Despite concerns over cost viability of greener systems such as ethanol-based fuel, some environmental organisations believe brewers are increasingly heeding the message over the environment.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said last year that brewers were increasingly following the examples set by other beverage manufacturers by working to cut cutting down on the environmental impacts of their production cycles.

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

"Climate change alone exacerbates a number of problems currently facing beer making,"​ he said at the time. "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."

Lovegrove stressed that although more needed to be done by the industry to cut energy use and carbon dioxide (CO2) output wherever possible, brewers were showing some initiative in meeting environmental concerns.

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