Brewing Heat and Power with CHP


By Margaret Cook, PhD, Research Associate

Oktoberfest has come and gone this year, but we still have beer—or rather breweries—on the mind. Breweries use large amounts of energy for heating or cooling and have onsite opportunities for waste heat reuse, meaning many locations are ideal candidates for the energy and operating cost savings of combined heat and power (CHP).

Breweries have high energy demands because many steps in the brewing process—like kiln-drying and roasting malt, heating the mash, boiling hops, and rapid cooling and refrigeration or cold storage—involve heating and cooling. The graphs show average electricity and natural gas use at breweries as reported by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Generally, refrigeration and packaging are the highest electricity users, followed by compressed air, the brewhouse, lighting, and the boiler house. Breweries may also have high natural gas demands for the brewhouse, packaging, utilities, and space heating. The high electricity and thermal demands for heating and cooling and the large number of low temperature thermal processes create opportunities to cut operations costs by using CHP. Leveraging available incentives can drive up the cost savings even more.

There could also be environmental benefits to using CHP at a brewery. For example, biogas produced from anaerobic digestion of waste material at a brewery can be used to fuel a CHP system. Additionally, CHP can be used to reduce emissions. Because CHP is more efficient, using natural gas or digester gas CHP compared to a dirtier grid that uses coal and natural gas steam turbines can reduce conventional air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions. Using renewable fuels could further reduce emissions, and CHP can be used in tandem with other renewable resources onsite or in a microgrid.

CHP also provides power system resilience. CHP’s proximity to the brewery reduces the need for transmission infrastructure and potential related reliability concerns—for example, from extreme weather events. CHP can also provide benefits to the utility through increased adjustable distributed generation, ancillary services, and load shedding.

Pictured here is New Belgium’s 500 kW biogas-fueled Guascor engine with heat recovery.


Many breweries around the nation have taken advantage of these benefits. New Belgium Brewing Company in Golden, Colorado uses CHP with biogas generated from their onsite wastewater treatment plant to power its brewery. Waste heat from one of its two biogas-fueled generators is reused to heat cold city water for use in the brewing process. The CHP system helps save New Belgium energy costs by avoiding coincident peak demand charges from the local utility. The biogas CHP system is supplemented by rooftop photovoltaic solar panels to provide about 20% of annual electricity needs at the brewery.

In addition to New Belgium, nineteen other CHP systems have been installed at breweries across the United States, ranging from 60 kilowatts to 20 megawatts and varying in fuel types from different types of renewables using biomass or digester gas, to natural gas, fuel oil, and coal. Smaller systems favor renewable power and use microturbines or reciprocating engines; larger systems use steam turbines and combustion turbines.

Find out if CHP may be right for your facility by contacting your local CHP Technical Assistance Partnership (TAP).