Ecovation installs stillage treatment solution for Maker's Mark

By Bryan Sims
Traditionally, managing the coproducts from the spirits manufacturing industry has been energy-intensive and costly, often creating a bottleneck in the production process.Ecovation Inc., a division of St. Paul, Minn.-based Ecolab Inc., has designed and built a proprietary whole stillage treatment solution at the Maker's Mark Distillery in Loretto, Ky. as a means of addressing this issue. Maker's Mark will utilize Ecovation's novel anaerobic digestion technology, called mobilized film technology, to effectively recycle its waste streams, and generate biogas for renewable energy and steam for its boilers.

The new technology was commissioned in April, and Maker's Mark Distillery hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony July 1 to celebrate the official operation of the technology.

According to Mark Motylewski, vice president of global accounts for Ecovation, the company's proprietary mobilized film technology will anaerobically treat the liquid portion of the whole stillage and process waters produced during the production of bourbon. The process will generate up to 165 million British thermal units of methane-rich biogas that will offset between 20 percent and 25 percent of the facility's natural gas consumption. "It's a fixed-film, pulsed fluidized bed anaerobic digestion technology," said Motylewski, who sold the project to Maker's Mark. He also oversaw the client relationships during the project's four years of development. "We're separating the grains out much like the distilleries do with a centrifuge, but we use a screw-press instead," he said. "The technology also has an aerobic polishing treatment process to take out nitrogen compounds in the effluent that gets discharged."

Motylewski said the system is much more energy-efficient and cost-effective than traditional centrifuges and evaporators that are used to dewater and dry wet cake after the distillation process. He said Maker's Mark will sell some wet cake as an animal feed "at a healthy profit and produced at a lower cost."

The Ecovation technology is the first to treat thin stillage in the bourbon industry, according to the company. Ecovation, which was acquired by Ecolab in February, is currently looking to develop similar anaerobic digestion systems for scotch distilleries in the United Kingdom and a rum distillery in the Caribbean, Motylewski said. "Once we complete the due diligence and prove out the technology, we'll hopefully convince other spirit distilleries of the benefits of this process and move forward with their projects, as well," he said.