Anheuser-Busch announced it will brew about one in seven beers, or over 5 billion 12.oz servings, with alternative energy by 2009 as part of its goal to run its U.S. operations on 15 percent renewable fuel by 2010. This is part of their effort to reduce total greenhouse gas emissions to 5 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2010 for all of its U.S. operations.
Their current efforts focus on just two of their 12 U.S. breweries. They plan to generate 15 percent of the fuel needed at their Fairfield, CA brewery from a bio-energy recovery system (BERS), which turns brewing wastewater into fuel. You can read more about the BERS system in my book about sustainable breweries, Fermenting Revolution. Another three percent of the brewery’s electricity needs will be generated on-site with solar panels.
The company’s Houston brewery will use more methane gas by tapping into a nearby landfill. When combined with that facility’s existing BERS, the two alternative energy systems will provide more than 70 percent of that brewery’s total fuel needs.
These projects are both laudable but they are not the big deal they are made out to be in the media. First of all, the company’s energy goal is timid: a mere 15% renewables by 2010. Secondly, these projects don’t represent any significant, new commitment to renewable energy. A-B has been using BERS for years and the landfill gas project is just a cost-effective energy choice, especially given today’s rising and volatile energy prices. The simple fact is that these systems will save the company money. I think that’s great, but it is disingenuous to tout these as eco-minded endeavors.
A number of craft breweries have made far bigger strides in the quest for energy alternatives. Sierra Nevada, America’s second largest craft brewery, has charted a course for supplying all of their energy needs through onsite renewable energy generation. They have a solar array going online that will supply a third of their energy needs. And they use one of the country’s largest fuel cell installations to convert the methane gas produced from their wastewater treatment into electric power and heat, recapturing the waste heat for use in the brewing process. At the Craft Brewers Conference earlier this year, brewery founder and CEO Ken Grossman told me that:
“With the addition of our solar panels, we are approaching our goal of providing 100 percent of our energy needs with clean on-site alternative energy generation.”
New Belgium, America’s third largest craft brewer, has relied entirely on renewable energy for ten years now by sourcing wind power and using a combined heat and power system that treats their wastewater and generates methane gas for use as fuel (related: read my article about the lifecycle analysis of their Fat Tire beer right here).
In this light, A-B appears to be tiptoeing down the alternative energy track as craft brewers are already crossing the finish line.