Advanced water treatment reduces brewing water ratios


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Water is a key resource in brewing. It forms a large part of the final product, typically 90%. Water is also used extensively in the production process, from creating steam in boilers to washing and cleaning. Reducing the quantity of water being used in production not only improves the bottom line. It reduces environmental impact keeping customers and shareholders happy.

The brewing industry has been reducing its water consumption for many years and making significant headway. Low water ratios are a measure of success. They define the quantity of water used as a proportion of the product produced. Once, breweries producing 1.5 million hectolitres (hl) a year would have a ratio of 7 hl per hl of product produced. Today, a 20 year old brewery with a water management programme in place can expect a water ratio of 4.4 hl per hl of product.

Four major breweries, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Heineken, Carlsberg and Molson Coors produce 88% of the beer drunk in the UK. The remaining 12% is either imported or produced by a growing number of craft brewers. There are over 2,500 independent breweries including well-known brands such as Marston’s and Adnams. The major breweries have set ambitious targets to reduce their water consumption on a global scale. Heineken’s Brewing a Better World Programme and Carlsberg’s ‘Together Towards Zero’ sustainability plans include targets to reduce their water ratios. Heineken reports average water consumption in its breweries down to 3.46 hl/hl in 2018, meeting their 2020 target. They are launching their Every Drop campaign in 2019 to reduce water use in their breweries further. Carlsberg report a 9% decrease in water consumption from the commencement of their water saving programme and a target to quarter their current water use at their breweries by 2022 and halve it by 2030. Their Together Towards Zero plan, has Zero water waste as one of its four pillars.

Achieving ambitious water reduction targets is not possible with just good water management strategies. Innovative thinking and the use of advanced technology is key to the success being seen by the major breweries. The craft breweries are also beginning to catch on. The secret to achieving water ratios in the order of 2.2 hl/hl is effluent recycling. Treating and recycling 65% of a brewery effluent can reduce a 4.4 hl/hl ratio to 2.2hl/hl by delivering a 50% reduction in water volume. Treating water in breweries not only reduces the water ratio but has additional benefits conferred by the softness of the recycled water and low total dissolved solids facilitating less boiler and condenser blow downs.

Effective water treatment of source water from bore holes, rivers and streams is often used to deliver the potable water quality required cost-effectively. Westons Cider’s use of Reverse Osmosis in 2013 saved the company a reported £42,000 per year in fuel and water costs for its boiler producing steam for pasteurisation and cleaning. Reverse Osmosis also has the benefits of removing mineral content to provide a blank canvas for constructing flavour profiles. For craft brewers, the desire to control the taste actually makes treated water a perfect medium. The treatment process gives the water a neutral taste, which brewers can easily modify.

Today’s brewers are now looking to use water treatment technologies at the other end of the process to reclaim and recycle water. On average 70% of the fresh water intake in a brewery becomes effluent. Water reclamation makes great business and environmental sense. Reusing process water is a trend already seen in soft drink production and beginning to gain traction in craft brewing. The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) benchmarking data on beer shows a significant number of companies have water intensity close to current best practice. “British independent brewers are some of the most innovative, environmentally-conscious business owners around,” says James Calder, head of public affairs at the Society of Independent Brewers. Waste water from malting and lautering is often sent directly to municipal sewage systems, but more breweries are beginning to treat and reuse their water for non-potable operations such as cleaning-in-place (CIP).

While Reverse Osmosis is being used to reclaim process and wastewater for bottle and keg cleaning, service water and boiler feed water, some craft brewers are seeing effluent as a potential feedstock for product. America’s Stone Brewery, the USA’s ninth-largest brewery, produced a pale ale called Full Circle made from 100% recycled sewage water demonstrating the potential at Spring event in 2017. Swedish brewer, New Carnegie Brewery, is now producing PU:REST a ‘crystal clear pilsner’ that is the country’s first beer made from ‘recycled water’. Using Reverse Osmosis and ultra-filtration technology the resulting source water will be as pure as the name suggests. It’s on sale in restaurants and festivals across Sweden. The UK craft brewing industry is no doubt looking at consumer uptake with interest. Sophisticated water treatment may be providing potable water from effluent in the near future.