In recent years, the growth of craft brewing in the United States has been nothing short of explosive. The producers who thrive in this competitive market will be the ones who can lower production costs while maintaining the consistently high quality responsible for their success. In an age in which the American public increasingly demands social responsibility from their favored brands, environmentally sound practices are becoming more and more important.
Advanced solar thermal technologies can provide an ideal solution. High-temperature solar thermal collectors, which require no tracking, utilize the newest technology to provide clean, renewable energy for heating and cooling processes at a lower overall cost than any other energy source. Because these systems collect both diffuse and direct sunlight, they are able to be effectively installed across the globe.
Aiming for Sustainability in Brewing and Distilling Processes
Brewing and distilling are energy-intensive processes, and every brewing company should aim to develop a sustainable process — with efficient energy consumption — in order to achieve savings in fuel and energy costs. Plenty of heat is needed to make beer and spirits: The mash for beer and distilled spirits is made with hot water, wort must be boiled before fermentation, and hot water is also used for distilling the fermented wash to evaporate the alcohol.
While many brewers have chosen photovoltaics (PV) as a solar solution, they may be better off using solar thermal energy in a way that would have a bigger impact on brewery energy reductions while also reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. PV may have more impact on the energy costs of wineries, but it still has a large thermal load that can be generated by solar thermal.
Energy usage in breweries varies depending on size, location, and product. Refrigeration generally creates the largest electrical load, while brewing consumes the largest amount of natural gas or propane (used for heat). The major consumers of electricity in breweries are refrigeration (44%), packaging (20%), and compressed air (10%).
Solar thermal cooling can reduce the demand for electricity needed for refrigeration. Single- and double-effect absorption/adsorption chillers can produce the chilled water for refrigeration and heat energy for the process.
The natural gas or propane energy consumption in breweries is typically as follows:
- Space heating — 10%
- Utilities — 20%
- Packaging — 25%
- Brewhouse — 45%
The 45% of brewhouse energy used in the brewing process poses a significant cost to the brewer. The competition for market share will depend on brewer costs per barrel to produce, location or access to market, and the taste and quality of the brew.
Using Solar Thermal Energy to Reduce Costs
Solar thermal energy can be used for heating processes in all brewing and distillation processes, bottle washing machines, and pasteurizers, as well as for cooling processes with absorption chillers. These are heat-dependent processes that can easily be supplied through solar heating.
Put simply, the sun is the most economical energy provider. In recent years, many brewers and distillers have put great effort into energy conservation by installing photovoltaic solutions to generate electricity and solar thermal energy collectors to produce heat for the processes.
Installing solar thermal systems should be part of a larger effort to develop an environmentally sustainable system that actually reduces electricity and fuel costs. An advanced solar thermal system will result in twice the efficiency of traditional solar (“solar PV”) and can reach temperatures up to 400 °F with no moving parts.
These systems would reduce more than twice the amount of GHG emissions and generate more than twice the usable energy for brewing and distilling industries. Such solutions make use of age-old technology, which uses the sun to directly or indirectly heat fluid, thereby reducing system costs and allowing it to be installed anywhere across the globe.
Advanced solar thermal collectors developed for use in industrial and commercial applications require high temperatures. Some collectors reach operating temperatures between 190 °F to 400 °F. The lower temperatures are used for water heating, while the higher temperatures operate solar space heating systems and provide the power necessary for high efficiency. Plus, these collectors allow for the lowest energy costs in producing live steam for process heating.
Steam consumption for a brewery is about 100 kg/hour, the standard value for a capacity of a 600 liter pot, assuming one hour is needed to bring the mash to a boil. To finish the process, you need an additional one and a half hours, consuming approximately 70 kg steam per hour.
Solar Heating Applications in Breweries and Wineries
A few solar heating applications for breweries:
- Heating the mash
- Boiling the wort
- Washing bottles/kegs
- Sanitation and cleanup
Some solar heating applications for distilleries:
- Preheating steam or oil boilers
- Heat for the pot and distillation column
- Washing bottles
- Sanitation and cleanup
Advantages of Solar Thermal Heating
Whether you’re making a fine craft beer or a smooth distilled beverage there are many diverse applications for solar thermal heating systems. Allowing for reduced costs and tangible environmental benefits, these sophisticated systems can greatly improve brewery and distillery operations.