Friday, March 12, 2010

Beer, Hops, Solar, Clean Brew -- Pump Grade Fuel, Too?

We have to take our hats off to companies -- and this is a mid-sized one, to be sure -- for looking at green ways to do their triple bottom lines, low carbon impacts as members of the local and biotic communities, and alternative and clean energy to produce a product many of us in the tech and environmental fields just love -- ale, beer, pilsner, stout, porter, IPA, you name it.

This solar project produces over 1.4 MW of AC power for the brewery. This—coupled with its existing 1.2 MW fuel cell plant—provides the majority of the brewery’s electrical energy needs with clean power produced on-site. Surplus electrical energy will be available to help supply the overloaded California power grid during peak power usage periods. Covering a majority of the brewing facility’s roofs, this system utilizes over 6700 Mitsubishi 185-watt lead-free panels.

The environmentally conscious Sierra Nevada Brewery in California is taking steps to become partially powered by the sun. A 1.3 megawatt solar system is being installed at the Chico plant in two phases and will provide 34% of the brewery’s power.

"With the addition of our solar panels, we are approaching our goal of providing 100% of our energy needs with clean on-site alternative energy generation."--Ken Grossman, CEO, Sierra Nevada Brewing

The system will be installed by Chico Electric and incorporate technology from Mitsubishi Electric. Chico Electric completed the first phase of the project in December 2007. The next phase will be finished in June 2008 after construction of a new building on the brewery’s property. In addition to the new solar electric system, the brewery has installed a 1MW fuel cell, a 500 kW solar array shade structure in its parking lot, and it also makes methane from brewery waste products, all part of an effort to use clean energy and make the brewery energy independent.

Mitsubishi Electric is providing nearly 7000 of its 185Wp high-strength, corrosion-resistant modules for the project. The modules contain no lead solder, a technology Mitsubishi Electric introduced to the United States in 2005. Instead of lead-solder coating for the cells, Mitsubishi Electric developed silver electrodes that offer superior weatherproofing and higher PV module conversion efficiency.

“Sierra Nevada Brewery is one of the most environmentally conscious companies in the industry and we are honored to be working on this project with them,” says Gina Heng, director of marketing for Mitsubishi Electric & Electronics USA’s Photovoltaic Division. Not only does the company boast impressive green credentials, but they make a decent beer too. For those who haven’t tried it, Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale is exceptionally good, and it's free from preservatives.

“The plan is to have a machine here on site that would distill the ethanol that’s remaining in the yeast slurry,” said Cheri Chastain, Sierra Nevada Sustainability Coordinator.

“We could make it available for employees. If we have a lot of it we could end up selling it. We could use it for our shop vehicles and company vehicles,” said Chastain.

Currently, production waste is sold as dairy feed to local farmlands. In fact, Sierra Nevada sells 1.6 million gallons of beer yeast waste annually. But not once this system is in place. Testing will start in Q2 of this year with a goal of full-production by q3.

The beer yeast contains between five and eight-percent alcohol content, but the MicroFueler is expected to raise the level to 15-percent.

“Creating ethanol from discarded organic waste is an excellent example of how the MicroFueler can help eliminate our reliance on the oil industry infrastructure. This is especially true when considering Americans reportedly discard 50% of all agricultural farmed products,” said Tom Quinn, E-Fuel founder and CEO. “Using a waste product to fuel your car is friendlier to the environment and lighter on your wallet, easily beating prices at the gas pump.”

Of course, Sierra Nevada has a history of being a bit eco-friendly: they are home to one of the largest private solar installations in the US.

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