Beer Produced by Net Zero Energy Anyone?

By: Steve Bluestone*

The process of brewing beer consumes a LOT of energy. But, if one tweaks the process a bit and adds in a bit of solar, it can be achieved with net zero energy. That’s the lofty goal that the new Roe Jan Brewing Company in Hillsdale, New York is striving for.

The process of making beer requires boiling, cooling, and cleaning/sterilizing. In fact, cleaning/sterilizing tasks comprise 90% of the work. Sterilization requires vast quantities of steam or hot water. And, this doesn’t even touch upon the constant cooling required once the beer has been completely fermented and becomes… well, beer.

Image credit Chronogram Magazine, Chronogram.com: The Roe Jan Brewing Company.
Under the deck is a Ventacity VS1000 RT heat recovery ventilator unit that ventilates the restaurant (and fortuitously came with a MERV 13 filter that theoretically captures COVID19 viruses). The outdoor units on the right side are a pair of large Mitsubishi central heat pumps that heat and cool the entire building.

The 171-year-old 14,000 square feet, 4-story building that Roe Jan sits inside underwent a complete gut rehabilitation with the intent of having it run on 99.9% electricity. Aside from the brewery, there are 7 rental apartments and a full-service restaurant that seats in excess of 120 people (counting inside and outside areas). The “0.1%” that is not electric is an open wood-fired grill that is the centerpiece of the open kitchen. The electric equipment (aside from the 100% LED lighting) includes a large, central heat pump system for heating/cooling all spaces, numerous energy recovery and heating recovery units, induction cooktops in both the apartments and restaurant, a heat recovery commercial dishwasher, and some pretty interesting heat pump hot water heaters that are uniquely situated entirely inside the building.

Getting all the way to net zero is going to require building a significantly large solar PV array. Unfortunately, the site is very small, and while half the roof is situated perfectly to hold a good number of PV panels (not enough to get it to net zero), the NY State and National Historic Preservation folks who have awarded the site federal and state tax credits are for some reason opposed to having solar on the roof.

These 3 Sanden units do the lion's share of producing hot water for the building -- they are part of the Sanden heat pump hot water heaters that use CO2 instead of a chemical refrigerant.

Fortunately, the local volunteer fire department (about a half mile away) has substantial, un-shaded roofs and is very interested in renting them to the brewery for off-site solar production. If all goes well, all of the brewery/restaurant energy requirements (including 100% of the heating/cooling of the residential apartments) will be derived from the planned solar PV system soon, in addition to rental income for the fire department.

A variety of other interesting bells and whistles were incorporated in the project to help reduce its carbon footprint. For example, the large “chiller” system that keeps the food and beer cold was installed inside the four walls of the brewery. The chiller is constantly looking for “cold” and constantly emits heat. When placed outside of the building (which is where the great majority of them are situated), they have to work pretty hard during the summer. Using heat pump compressors, the chiller cools down a liquid glycol solution to 37-39 degrees F and exhausts a significant amount of hot air into the brewery. During the winter, this is an optimal energy efficiency system as no extra heat source is required for the space. It was quite comfortable there last winter. The summer presents an entirely different challenge. In order to help remedy this heat distribution problem, several heat pumps designed for domestic hot water heaters were placed in the same large space as the chiller. 

A Sanden hot water heat pump stacked strategically on top of an ice maker.

These water heaters are constantly looking for hot air to heat water for use in the kitchen, brewery, and the apartments, and while doing that, they constantly push cold air into the room (which helps counter the heat pushed out by the chiller).

Thus, even energy-intensive tasks like brewing beer can be achieved in a low-carbon manner. All the investments described in this blog not only help the environment but, will also save money in the long-term. For the global decarbonization transition to be successful, every industry and every small business will need to find creative and innovative ways to meet energy needs with electricity, rather than fossil fuel sources, and using electricity produced by renewable sources like solar, wind and hydro. Being a connoisseur of beer, I can reassure you that “low carbon” beer tastes every bit as good, if not better, than traditionally brewed beer!

If you want to see some of these systems in person (or taste the beer for yourself), make your way up to the brewery and ask for Steve. He will gladly show you around. In the meantime, cheers!

*Steve Bluestone is the founder and owner of Roe Jan Brewing Company and a Croton100 Board Member.

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