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Brewers not braced for biogas, says expert

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Anaerobic digestion Methane

Brewers and dairy processors are failing to capitalise on the
potential long-term cost and energy benefits of using biogas,
according to a major supplier of the technology.

Gunther Pesta, manager of Artres, a company which supplies tailored biogas systems to business, told that despite the cost push brewers were still behind in leveraging their operations to produce biogas for industrial use. As processors continue to face rising commodity and energy costs, a growing number of manufacturers are looking to alternative energy sources to drive greater cost efficiency in their operations and meet targets to cut carbon emissions. Biogas is one such solution, which relies on organic waste products -- including yeast left over from brewing and whey from cheese processing -- which can be transformed into methane for energy generation. Speaking during a presentation at this year's Brau Beviale show, Pesta said that the technology has certainly been generating increasing interest amongst manufacturers. However, there was a lot of work to be done if companies were to fully reap the benefits of adopting the technology. "Major brewers are all waiting for each other to take the plunge and make a concerted effort to begin using biogas,"​ he said. "Therefore no one is willing to take the first step at the moment."​ Pesta claimed that the reluctance of processors in using biogas as an energy source was down to a lack of knowledge regarding how to adopt their manufacturing cycles to use waste products as a form of fuel. It is this lack of knowledge, he said, that was had creating uncertainty amongst decision makers at major companies. "The questions from a lot of breweries are always the same, namely is using biogas feasible? The problem of course is that a the moment it is difficult to give positive examples,"​ Pesta added. "Brewers are waiting for a turnkey, fix all solution for using biogas to power operations, and that is not likely to arrive in the next five to ten years." ​ Pesta added that while some companies were already using wastewater as an alternate energy source to power their plants and operations, using biogas to its full potential required a system tailored to each individual company. It is this factor, he said, which is both the strength and the weakness of biogas as an energy source. Pesta was optimistic for the industry, as over the last 25 years organisations like the Technical University of Munich had been further developing ways to make the most of biogas. Now, instead of simply offering a single process for using biogas, a whole solution could now be offered to manufacturers, adapting their entire production cycle to better make use of the energy created from a variety of food and waste products. Pesta said that companies like Artres hoped to act as the missing link between equipment and technical suppliers and players in food and beverage processing by supplying know how and equipment With the market still relatively underdeveloped, he suggested that processors should move now to make the most of government supported grants to maximise. Pesta added that with growing concern over the environment, legislation is always changing. Processors still have a chance to take the time to develop alternative technologies properly without the threat of the new technology being forced on them. For brewers there were added incentives to use biogas, according to Pesta. "Brewers obviously need malts and harvest grains for production of their beers, after being used to generate biogas, the waste can then be replaced on farm land as fertilisers,"​ he said. Pesta conceded that despite developments in getting energy from waste, there are still limitations to the technology. "In the example of a brewer using spent grains, huge digesters are needed to ensure efficient supply of biogas,"​ he said. "This is simply no efficient for space and time."​ Therefore the industry needed to ensure that energy from biogas continued to be developed for more efficient use. "We ourselves as a company are working to develop products that can help speed up the process both in getting gas from waste water, and also digesting other biomass, and we are not alone,"​ Pesta said. Despite Pesta's claims, some brewers say they are already making developments of their own in how they use biogas as a fuel. European brewer Scottish & Newcastle (S&N) has changed some of its operations in both England and France to cater for use of biogas. The group says that it has commissioned construction of a £3.6m effluent treatment plant at its Royal Brewery in Manchester. The development, which allows for both anaerobic digestion and aerobic digestion into methane instead of slush, has allowed the group to derive 10 per cent of its gas use from natural sources. S&N says it has also invested in its French operations, by upgrading a biogas recovery plant in France. The technology extended the biogas contribution to the plant's thermal energy needs to nine per cent, from 6.5 per cent previously, according to the company. Australian brewer Fosters has also begun to make some steps towards using biogas, in a move it started earlier this year. The project, funded in part by an Australian government grant, employs a microbial fuel cell devised by scientists at the University of Queensland (UQ) to generate energy from wastewater at the brewer's production plant near Brisbane. Pesta believes that the sooner the industry can push biogas use in it operations the sooner the long-term benefits can begin. "There is a lot to do, but there are also benefits to be had,"​ he said.

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