While breweries around the world use spent grain as a co-fuel in energy recovery systems, "nobody was burning spent grain as a sole fuel source for an energy recovery system, for a steam boiler," said Brandon Smith, the company's brewing operations and engineering manager.
It contracted with a North Dakota company to build the special boiler system after the project was awarded nearly $500,000 in a grant from the federal Rural Energy for America Program.
The craft brewery is expecting big savings once the system is fully operational in about a month's time. Smith estimates that the spent grain steam boiler will offset the company's yearly energy costs by 70 percent, which amounts to about $450,000 a year.
Alaskan Brewing Co. makes about 150,000 barrels of beer a year. The beer is distributed in 14 states after recent entries into the Texas, Wisconsin and Minnesota markets. It brews several varieties of beer, but is best-known for its Alaskan Amber, an alt-style beer. The company is also known for its distinctive beer labels, including featuring a polar bear on its Alaskan White Belgian-style ale.
When asked which beer's spent grain burns the best Smith joked "we're still trying to figure that out. We have our suspicions."
Smith said he hasn't been contacted by other breweries regarding implementing the project, but "absolutely" believes the system could be applied at other, bigger breweries that dry their spent grain.
Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world's largest brewer, has been repurposing its spent grain for the past century, selling it to local farmers.
Mike Beck, director of utilities support at Anheuser-Busch InBev, told The Associated Press in an email that spent grains are not currently a viable energy source for its breweries. However, Beck noted that the company regularly investigates new technologies to see if they could be applicable to its operations.Anheuser-Busch InBev does employ bio-energy recovery systems, which turn wastewater into biogas, in most of its U.S. breweries. That provides up to 9 percent of the fuel needed in its boilers, he said.