Brewing beer is an incredibly water-intensive operation. Aside from the fact that water is by far the most prevalent ingredient in any pint, water is also necessary to rinse, clean and prepare every piece of equipment in the brewery.
The average brewery uses seven barrels of water for every single barrel of beer it produces, according to Craft Brewing Business. This number is something many brewers strive to reduce but it's not easy. Even operations that place sustainability at the top of their priorities use huge quantities of water: Some of the most water-efficient breweries use around three barrels of water per barrel of beer.
As the craft brewing industry continues to expand, it's critical that everyone involved keep wastewater treatment options in mind. Many people in both the brewing and water treatment industries discover that finding an efficient, affordable way to dispose of the water leaving a brewery is a significant challenge.
"Finding an efficient, affordable way to dispose of the water leaving a brewery is a significant challenge for breweries."
Craft brewers invest in wastewater treatment
Like most business operations, breweries have the choice of bringing their wastewater treatment operations in-house or using a third party. Many turn to municipal water treatment plants for assistance, but not all cities have adequate operations to handle the rich water-leaving breweries.
For example, Lagunitas Brewing Company in Petaluma, California, would truck its wastewater to East Bay Municipal Utility District plant in Oakland. Petaluma's facility was both too small for the amount of water coming from Lagunitas, and ill-equipped to handle the high levels of sugars, yeasts and other substances present in the brewery's wastewater.
After debating whether to spend $8 million on its own wastewater treatment operation, Lagunitas decided to partner with Cambrian Innovation, a company that provides wastewater treatment solutions for commercial operations. Cambrian has capabilities that allow the wastewater be renewed into clean water and energy.
— The Equipped Brewer (@EquippedBrewer) October 13, 2015
Other breweries have come up with their own solutions. Mendocino Brewing Company, located in Hopland, California, spent $1.5 million on its own wastewater treatment plant more than two decades ago, and continues to invest in periodic upgrades, according to The Press Democrat. Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa, California, invested $100,000 in an underground wastewater treatment facility.
"From an operational standpoint, it, along with a handful of other pieces of equipment, is the first thing I check in the morning," Vinnie Cilurzo, brewmaster at Russian River Brewing, explained to The Press Democrat. "If your wastewater is not operable, your brewery is not operational."
What makes brewery wastewater unique
The water leaving a brewery is harmful for the surrounding environment, but that's not because it's polluted with chemicals or toxins. Rather, this wastewater is filled with everything that bacteria, bugs and plant life love: sugar, yeast and protein.
Releasing this high-strength wastewater into the ground and natural water systems in a community can promote extensive growth of bacteria and algae. When these populations flourish, they can take over resources that native fish, plants and other organisms in the ecosystem need to survive. They can also over-consume oxygen in sewer systems, throwing off the important yet highly touchy balance of bacteria within the systems that keep them working efficiently, according to The Equipped Brewer.
"Some industrial generators, such as breweries, can generate high-strength industrial waste that is 100 times the concentration of your typical municipal waste water generator … When you dump waste that is 100 times the strength of a home or restaurant, you can eat up (your reserve capacity) real fast," Dan St. John, director of public works and utilities in Petaluma, explained to The Press Democrat.
Improving your brewery's wastewater treatment process
It's clear that carefully managing your wastewater has far-reaching implications. Shedding off nutrient-rich water can affect many important systems in a community. Dependence on a municipality's water treatment systems is an expense that adds up quickly.
Having your own wastewater treatment plan can allow you to ensure the water is treated properly and responsibly. It can also allow you to use the post-treated water however you wish – whether that means reintroducing it into the brewery's many water-dependent processes, using it for irrigation, or something else.
If you're considering building a new wastewater treatment system for your brewing operation or if you're upgrading an existing facility, it's important to keep equipment needs in mind. To learn about how a shell and tube heat exchanger can improve your wastewater treatment efforts, reach out to the engineers at Enerquip. Our team has extensive experience working with food and beverage manufacturers, and we will be able to determine the best option for your brewery.