THOUGHT PIECE the carling team

Sustainability – How Are We Doing So Far? Part 2

Part 2 – How about hydrogen and some brewery and maltings initiatives

For the first time the global energy watchdog, the International Energy Agency has projected that fossil fuel consumption will peak before 2030 and fall into permanent decline as climate policies take effect. But it cautions that the forecast downturn is still ‘nowhere near steep enough’ to put the world on a path to limiting temperature rises to 1.5oC above pre-industrialised levels.

The infamous Fukushima power station in Japan is home to Toshiba’s 20MW solar PV spread over 180,000m2 which uses the energy to power the world’s largest hydrogen plant producing 1200m3 a day. That seems to be a lot of space and investment to supply the energy needs of 150 average households or 650 fuel cell based cars.

The intermittent nature of renewable energy means there is a need to find efficient means to store it. Hydrogen represents a useful vehicle fuel and can be produced while the sun is shining and the wind is blowing. Researchers at Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration (IZM) in Germany has developed the old zinc battery on a huge scale to produce hydrogen. The steel, zinc and potassium hydroxide batteries are much cheaper than the lithium alternative with the added bonus of either converting the stored energy in the zinc back into the grid or producing hydrogen. During charging, the water oxidises into oxygen while the zinc oxide is reduced to metallic zinc. During discharge, this reverts to zinc oxide. The water is reduced once more, releasing hydrogen.

Schematic showing the IZM process

Conventional electrolysis to produce hydrogen by applying current to water has a high energy demand and is less than 50% efficient after the hydrogen is used as a fuel. The new system uses energy stored in the metallic zinc during charging, with hydrogen being held in the water of the electrolyte at ambient pressure and significantly higher density than pressurised or liquid hydrogen gas. Efficiency rises to over 80% says IZM.

The hydrogen electrolytic reaction does need to improve its efficiency if it is to become a major player in fuelling heating and transportation in the future. Some encouraging work has been reported in a journal you have probably not heard of before – Polyoxometalates. Researchers say that current catalytic particles used during the electrolysis of water lack a uniform size so present an uneven environment for the reactions to occur. They suggest that gold nanoclusters offer an ultra-small size, definitive composition, well-defined structure and uniform chemical environment at the atomic level.

The Green Genius solar array in Lithuania

So how are the breweries themselves doing? The Carlsberg group aims to achieve net zero carbon emissions across the entire value chain by 2040. With solar panels and battery storage costs now only 10% of those ten years ago the brewer plans to install two solar-plus-storage parks in Lithuania. The first will be erected at Utena and will be operational next year including 1.5 MW of rooftop arrays and a 2MWh battery. The second one will be at a remote site at Butrimony for 2025 with a 5MW solar park and will be coupled with 4MWh of energy storage capacity. The deal with Green Genius which will manage the array is similar to another Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) in Australia whereby FlowPower will supply 40,000MW to Carlton United (Asahi) from a solar farm located in sunny Queensland’s outback at Clermont.

Oriental Brewery in South Korea has installed solar power panels at its plant in Gwangju, becoming the first local brewer to do so as part of its RE100 plans. RE100 pledges to convert 100% of the electricity used by a company into renewable energy. This first installation at 2.6MW will produce 3.7 GW annually which is some 11% of the current electricity usage. Other plants will follow by 2025. Some way to go to cover the other 89% though.

The One Planet Brewery team with their solar powered 15hL electric brewery

Closer to home, One Planet Brewing in Surrey is the first UK brewery to make the commitment to brew using only solar power generated on site. It has been launched following an initial £250,000 investment from Hogs Back Brewery and is situated at its site at Tongham. It is a 15hL all electric brewery which will be run semi-autonomously, with an ambition to work with new investors and other partners once trials are complete. The first beer was a 5.5% ABV Hazy IPA available in keg with cans (the one trip container with the lowest carbon footprint) expected shortly. Distribution by electric dray will be offered only to customers within a 30-mile radius of the brewery.

AtmosZero in Colorado insists we must ‘decarbonise heat’ and has installed a 650kW pilot boiler system in Kirin’s New Belgium plant. Earlier electric boilers relied on resistive heating, which produces heat inefficiently by passing an electric current through a conductive material in the boiler. AtmosZero leans on heat pump technology, which uses electricity to circulate refrigerants with low boiling points through a closed loop. The device draws in heat from the surrounding air, uses a compressor to increase the temperature of the refrigerant enough to boil water, and then transfers that thermal energy through a heat exchanger into a vessel that produces steam.

A large scale CO2 collection plant by Pentair Haffmans at the top and the more compact Earthly Labs unit

Brewers tend to sit back and opine that the 4 tonnes of CO2 they produce from every 2000hL fermentation is OK as 4 tonnes was absorbed from the atmosphere while the barley was growing. Brewers need CO2 to push beer around, top pressure tanks, get the fizz in beer as well as dispense it in the pub so why let a lot of it waft into the sky? We now know that bought in gas is produced as a byproduct of fertiliser manufacturing so buying it has become expensive and supplies are not assured.

The big boys have bought collection, cleaning and compression systems attached to the fermenters. Smaller brewers are using systems designed by NASA to remove CO2 from the Martian atmosphere once a station is established there. The aim is to collect oxygen but there is only 0.13% O2 in the atmosphere on Mars so the machine will have to work hard. The size of a double door fridge, CiCi is in some 70 breweries worldwide and is made by Earthly Labs in Texas. Powered by hopefully renewable electricity it does not need a huge collection balloon but can extract the gas from a manifold coupled across a bank of vessels. A 25,000hL brewery can buy one for $120,000. Similar small scale recovery units are made by Dalum in Denmark and have been installed at Gadd’s in Ramsgate and Wiper & True at its new brewery at Old Market in Bristol. We note that we used to have CO2 recovery systems but now they are billed as carbon capture units!

The Parker NITROsource unit at Charles Wells Brewpoint in Bedford

The new Charles Wells 25,000hL Brewpoint in Bedford decided to maintain bought in CO2 supplies for carbonation but where it was being used as an inert gas for beer transfers etc, capturing nitrogen from the atmosphere was a viable alternative. A Parker Hannafin NITROsource unit was installed producing some 22m3 of nitrogen per hour to a rigorous residual oxygen specification and reducing CO2 demand by 50 tonnes a year. The unit works by filtering a compressed air source down to 0.01micron followed by dual beds filled with a carbon molecular sieve (CMS) which absorbs oxygen, carbon dioxide and water vapour while the nitrogen passes straight through. A sterile filter completes the job. The beds are regenerated by dropping the pressure and flushing out the captured molecules.

Heineken UK plans to invest £25m (including a £3.7 million grant from the Department of Energy Security and Net Zero) at its Royal Brewery in Manchester to incorporate heat pumps and capture heat from various sources such as the on-site refrigeration units as part of the group’s efforts to decarbonise its UK production sites by 2030. Heineken says that collaboration is the key to embracing the best emerging technologies.

We are told the heat pumps will be powered by renewable electricity. Electrons moving about our grid have no idea whether they have come from a renewable source or not. Presumably someone is logging the yield of electricity from renewable sources and is counting down the consumption of companies making these claims. Being independent means you are in control. BrewDog has erected its own wind turbines as well as buying land and planting thousands of trees to offset its CO2 emissions but it is so easy to buy carbon credits and pay someone else to plant trees. There is plenty of evidence that funds are not actually reaching the people affected by climate change but have not contributed to it.

Asahi’s Radegast in Czechia, has managed to produce beer out of thin air. Called Radegast Futur, the experimental batch was brewed in a limited edition with the aim of raising awareness about increasing water scarcity in Central Europe. Only 200 litres of the lager were made available through special events. We are told the brewery at Nosovice in Moravia boasts one of the country’s lowest water consumption rates at 2.29L per litre brewed. The water was harvested by EWA (Emergency Water from Air) technology developed by the Czech company Karbox and is designed to produce 30L a day in more arid areas of the world and up to 70L in wetter Europe.

SIBA has unveiled its sustainability strategy which includes a new tool developed by Zevero, the carbon measurement and reporting platform. It is due for release later this year and will be offered free to SIBA members.

On the malting front, Crisp Malt has declared a zero carbon target of 2045 but its businesses do include a food ingredients division and cereal processor Micronised Food Products. Over in New York State, Cool Cousin brewery is trumpeting a new ‘raw’ lager brewed from only unmalted barley with an added cocktail of enzymes. Heralding the end of malting CEO John Midgley said ‘malting is incredibly old school and inefficient’. His process involves a four step mashing profile and despite a large degree of industry scepticism and some pundits saying the beer is distinctly grainy, Midgeley is determined to carry on and save 700mL and 32g of CO2 for every litre he produces.

At all the brewing expos about ten years ago, Novozymes would present sample beers made with its enzymes and barley. The lager was never quite there but an IPA with lots of hops to mask any grainy flavour was very drinkable. The biggest challenge seems to be breaking down the barley cell walls making 100% replacement difficult but plenty of brewers have installed hammer mills and are happily replacing 20-40% of the malt. I am told that Tooheys in Sydney were producing beers with 60% replacement from the late 60s until new owners took over in 1991 and thought the use of unmalted grain was ‘not quite the done thing’!

Malting looks like staying with us for a bit longer. Bairds Malt in the UK has worked with ‘green’ hydrogen energy Protium to use hydrogen fuel initially in a barley drier. Switching from natural gas to green hydrogen across its 280,000t of malt production could save over 40,000t of CO2 annually.

Thornhill Agri in Ireland will build a new 20,000t maltings at Tullow, Co Carlow some 100km south-west Dublin. According to the company, the new facility will be the ‘world first zero-emission malting plant’ and plans to only collect barley from a 15km radius of the plant. With an eye to future the plant will be designed as a non- permanent structure, capable of being dismantled in the future. Perhaps for when the enzyme boys get their act together?

We keep coming back to whether carbon offsetting is a legitimate business practice or simply a costly means of greenwashing. We are pleased to hear that the world’s largest food maker Nestlé is also to stop using carbon offsets and withdraw its pledges to make certain brands ‘carbon neutral’. Presumably other brands leaving the factory could be less neutral thus such claims must mislead the public. So the giant will take responsibility itself and invest in cutting its own greenhouse gas emissions. It has set a target of ‘net zero greenhouse gas emissions’ by 2050 with a 50% reduction by 2030.

Politicians will gather at COP 28 in Dubai at the end of November but the scientific consensus remains unchanged we must reduce our carbon emissions.

Next time we shall look at packaging and pubs.