Hop to It: Brewer Generates Its Own Power From Beer Mash

Alaska Brewing Company gives us a new reason to say 'cheers!' to recycling.

Beer powered beer. (Photo: Alaskan Brewing Co.)

Jason Best has worked for Gourmet and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

One Alaska brewer is turning the whole concept of “beer run” on its head. Juneau-based Alaskan Brewing Company has installed a specially designed $1.8-million boiler that basically takes the brewer’s leftover grain and burns it to generate electricity. Hence, we guess you could say the brewery is now “beer-run.”

Ba bum bum ching! (Sorry, we had to.)

Bad puns aside, the move definitely puts the brewer on the map when it comes to ingenious recycling of waste products and using renewable energy. According to the Anchorage Daily News, the company is “the only brewery in the world using spent grain as its sole source of fuel.”

Plant manager Curtis Holmes tells the newspaper that over the next decade, the company expects to see a 70 percent drop in its consumption of fuel oil, saving $1.5 million.

Many brewers sell of their spent grain as animal feed, but that gets expensive in Alaska, which doesn’t have much in the way of a livestock industry, and apparently paying to have your heavy, waterlogged grain shipped all the way down to the lower 48 is pricey.

While the brewer still sends some waste barley down the coast, the goal is to eventually “burn it all,” says Holmes. In regards to the five percent of the grain that ends up as ash after being burned as fuel, ABC is scoping out recycled uses for that waste as well, like turning it into fertilizer or selling it to concrete manufacturers.

Of course, you don’t need to trek all the way to Alaska to keep your eco-conscience clean while enjoying your beer buzz. Here are a few clean-enegry brewing solutions practiced in other states:

Brooklyn Brewery uses 100 percent wind-generated electricity to make its brews.

• California’s Eel River Brewing Company gets all its power from biomass (i.e., “carbon-neutral electricity generated from renewable organic waste that would otherwise be dumped in landfills”).

Great Lakes Brewing Co. in Cleveland takes a “triple bottom line” approach to its biz (“economic, social and environmental practices that achieve a sustainable yet profitable business”), which includes recycling just about all of its waste. For example, the brewery utilizes used vegetable oil from its restaurant operations to gas up its beer delivery truck.

• Colorado-based New Belgium invites (presumably sober) customers to track is progress toward sustainability on its website, from its drop-in energy consumption to the carbon footprint of its bottles.

More beer made with less fossil fuels? We’ll happily raise a glass to that.

Similar stories on TakePart:

• Whether It’s Craft Beer or ‘Craft’ Beer, It’s Looking More Like Big-Name Beer

• I Can’t Believe It Was Butter and Now It’s Electricity

• Debunking Alternative Energy Myths

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