Brimming with Biomass

The International Biomass Conference & Expo tour features a brewery process water treatment plant and forest management activities
By Anna Austin | April 03, 2012

Through a combination of energy conservation measures, on-site renewable power generation, green power and renewable energy credit purchases, the New Belgium Brewery in Boulder, Colo., is a leader in sustainability.

Founded in 1991 and considered the nation’s third largest regional craft brewery, the company manufactures more than 20 different types of beer, including its flagship amber ale Fat Tire. As beer-making processes in general require a significant amount of water—roughly five gallons of water for every gallon of beer—the facility goes the extra mile to make the most out of its waste water by hosting an on-site process water treatment plant (PWTP). There, water that was used in the beer-making process is sent through a series of aerobic and anaerobic basins, and the resulting methane is piped back to the brewery where it powers a 292 kilowatt (kW) combined-heat-and-power (CHP) engine.

Sarah Uhl, enculturation specialist at New Belgium Brewery, says the CHP system was installed about seven years ago, and a second biogas generator was recently commissioned. “So one provides energy for the PWTP, and the other is utilized to supplement facility electricity, which can be up to 15 percent,” she says.

In 2009 alone, the CHP system generated 957,000 kilowatt hours and saved the brewery nearly $60,000 in electricity costs. In addition to the PWTP and CHP system, a 200 kW photovoltaic array sits on the top of the brewery's packaging hall to contribute more than 3 percent of the facility’s electrical needs. Spent grains from the brewing process are sold to a local farmer who feeds them to his cattle. 
New Belgium Brewery also purchases renewable energy credits for the offsite warehouse it leases, as well as a substantial amount of wind energy from the City of Fort Collins’ Wind Program.

Tour attendees of the International Biomass Conference & Expo in Denver from April 16-19, will visit the brewery and get a first-hand account of its sustainability and renewable energy practices. Uhl says attendees will learn about the company’s history and business culture, tour the brew house, packaging hall and the PWTP, and sample some of the beers produced on site.

The dual-stop conference tour will also include Boulder County’s forest management operation and biomass energy facility, where proactive forest management minimizes fire hazards and improves the health of the county’s forests, while producing renewable heat.

Therese Glowacki, Boulder County Parks and Open Space Resource Management Division manager, says tour attendees will view foothills forests containing pine beetle attacked trees, as well as forest management activities. The site takes in about 150 acres worth of managed forests each year, according to Glowacki, and wood brought to the site is chipped or sent through tub grinders and screened.  Then, it’s hauled to a district heating plant located about seven miles away, to be used as feedstock in a seven-year-old biomass heating system that generates heat for five buildings at the Boulder County Open Space & Transportation Department Complex.

“Tour attendees will hopefully get to see the plant in action, the automated system and wood chips in storage,” Glowacki says. “We say it’s forest management to biomass energy, the complete cycle.”

The International Biomass Conference & Expo will offer another set of tours, which will include continuous emissions monitoring systems manufacturer Custom Instrumentation Services Corp., proprietary gasification system developer Community Power Corp., and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s National Bioenergy Center.

—Anna Austin