Producing beer or wine can leave a significant eco-footprint: Both require water-intensive processes and, as the Berkeley-based environmental magazine Terrain reports, “even mid-size breweries can generate tens of thousands of tons of solid waste each year.” But Terrain brings good tidings, too, of a handful of Northern California breweries and wine companies making sustainable strides, harnessing their waste and byproducts to power their own production processes.
Here’s just one example:
The view from atop Chico, California’s Sierra Nevada Brewing Company roof is breathtaking. Blue skies and sun–the first clear day the region has seen in weeks–shine on a dizzying quilt of 10,000 rectangular solar panels. The brewery’s 200,000 square feet of blue silicon plates make it one of the country’s largest private solar arrays, but a row of large silos off to the left offers another glimpse of the company’s attempts to operate off the grid.
Each of those silos contains almost 25,000 gallons of beer. To craft that beer, brewers boil the grains, filter out the solids, cool the product, then add yeast to the liquid. That slurry sits in fermenters–the silos–for ten to fourteen days. Yeast, a single-celled organism, eats sugars from the malt and hops. As it digests its food, the yeast exhales carbon dioxide and produces alcohol. But instead of releasing the greenhouse gas into the air, Sierra Nevada diverts it to a storage tank, where it is cleaned and pressurized. It later plays a vital role in the brewery’s operations, adding carbonation to some of the brews and pushing beer from one boiler to another via a labyrinthine series of tubes and pipes. “Our philosophy is a closed-loop approach,” says Cheri Chastain, Sierra Nevada’s sustainability coordinator. “We take the byproducts of brewing and use them for something we need.”
This both saves money and reduces greenhouse gasses, she says. “Carbon dioxide is usually a big purchase for carbonation and dispensing,” Chastain explains. “With the recovery system in place, we’re not releasing carbon dioxide and we’re supplying a hundred percent of what we need. It’s a free fuel source and we have it on-site, so we might as well use it.”