The upper level of Alaska Brewing Company's new spent-grain burning system churns out thermal energy.
Ryland Buller, engineering technician with Alaska Brewing Company, peers into a fiery hot window on the boiler.
Grain levels can be seen through a small window in the grain steam boiler, which heats up to 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit.
Story last updated at 1/23/2013 - 2:07 pm
Imagine if your beer was made with energy created by beer. Like, beer powered beer.
OK, stop imagining. Alaska Brewing Company has started doing just that. How does one make beer with beer? Using spent products, grain to be exact.
Alaska Brewing Company has been working on reducing their fuel oil usage by 60-70 percent, and their latest ground-breaking move is projected to take on a large portion of that goal.
The company started its unique practices in 1995, when it installed a grain dryer. Most breweries around the country take their wet grain product and sell it to farmers. Juneau is not known to have a farming community. Part of that grain product Alaska Brewing was shipping and selling to farmers in Seattle. Now, that entire by-product will be used to create energy to make new product - the part that flows from taps and is poured from bottles into eager mouths.
"The process of making beer involves a lot of energy," said Brandon Smith, brewing operations and engineering manager.
He explained the basic process of brewing as talking malted grain, milling it, mixing it with hot water, heating it up, separating it, adding wart and boiling it for a long time.
"Most of those steps require energy in the form of thermal heat," Smith said.
Up 'til now, Alaska Brewing Company has generated that steam by using fuel oil.
"Most people in Juneau know that's pretty expensive," he said.
Until October, when the company started bringing the new system online, it burned half to 1/3 of its spent grain to run the dryer.
"The downside is we couldn't use all of it," Smith said. "We wanted to more fully use that resource. We did a lot of research, worked with engineers. We use 100 percent of that spent grain to reduce our energy and increase our efficiency."
The company faced challenges in doing this, because it is the first brewery that does this. There are a few breweries that use spent grain for part of the brewing process, but no one does it fully.
"It's the sole power source for our boiler," Smith said.
They started installing the system in 2011, and had to rebuild parts of it due to challenges, but the idea started in 2009.
"We'll be looking at the next step of bringing steam to the brew house," Smith said.
There is enough energy left over from powering the dryer and boiler to contribute to the rest of the brewery, but this will not include normal building heating. That is expected to happen over the next few months.
Smith said they hope to push past the goal of reducing fuel costs by 70 percent.
"The biggest energy users are the grain dryer and the brew house," Smith said. He said it's looking like the remaining thermal energy could power 50 percent of the brew house.
Smith hopes other breweries see what Alaska Brewing Company is doing and will take a look to see if this, or something similar, will work for their own operations. That may be more challenging for breweries that aren't located in such soggy conditions without farming communities, as grain dryers at breweries are not common and would be a large expense for a company looking to do it all.
Alaska Brewing Company spent $1.8 million on the spent grain steam boiler, and estimates it will save about 1.5 million gallons of oil over the next 10 years.
Sarah Day is the editor of Capital City Weekly. She can be reached at email@example.com