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May20

Craft Brewing: The New Frontier of Water Sustainability and Innovation

Water, hops, barley and yeast. Those are the essential ingredients for beer. But how much water is actually used to make beer?

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Water comprises 95 percent of beer. However, for each keg (or 15.5 gallons) of beer produced, approximately seven kegs (or 108.5 gallons) of water are used. Not only does water go into the beer that is kegged or bottled, but breweries also use water for cleaning, production, packaging and utilities. Along with water use, most breweries discharge 70 percent of the water they use as effluent, wastewater that is generated and flows into sewer systems. With more than 3,000 breweries across the United States (and over 100 in San Diego County alone), those IPAs, stouts and sours demand a lot of water.

Current water usage, coupled with continued population growth, will put increasing demands upon current and future water supplies. Over the past few years, federal, state and local governments have taken preliminary steps to address these concerns through a variety of laws and regulations aimed at curbing water use and treating effluent that runs into sewers, rivers, and oceans. Failing to meet these mandates can result in monetary fines and penalties, some of which could cripple both established brewers and those new to the craft brewing industry.

Fortunately, in addition to starting a craft beer revolution, breweries in San Diego County are at the forefront of innovation when it comes to water and wastewater management. In this space, what’s good for the environment is good for the bottom line as the ability to efficiently use water resources will ultimately translate into growth and long-term sustainability for the craft beer industry.

Some of the innovative steps craft brewers are taking include:
  • Brewing and Production
    • Leak detection and regular maintenance of water supply lines
    • Closed-loop fermentation vessels
    • Employee education and incentive programs to reduce water use and effluent discharge
    • Use of clean-in-place systems to clean and sterilize equipment with little to no manual involvement
    • Hot water recovery systems
  • Packaging
    • Proactive maintenance of the bottling/conveyor belt system
    • Use of solenoid valves to control flow
    • Implementation of dry-lube systems as opposed to water spray lubrication
  • Wastewater
    • Installation of on-site pre-treatment systems
    • Employment of pH neutralization, solids removal and biological treatment

Craft breweries that have employed these and other practices have reduced their water consumption from a water:beer ratio of 7:1 to 3:1, which also translates into less effluent and wastewater. By using less water and decreasing effluent load, production costs are less and profits increase.

Achieving these results requires innovation and collaboration among a variety of disciplines, including science, technology and engineering. Just as San Diego County has led the nation in the craft brewing revolution, the region is primed to be the leader in innovative and sustainable water use and wastewater treatment. Such efforts will reduce the risk of penalties and fines for water overuse and excessive effluent discharge and may lead the way to new, patentable technologies that can be applied to a variety of industries.

The article was also featured in the SD Transcript and available to subscribers here.