Reducing CO₂ Emissions in Beer Production through Electrification of Steam

How the electrification of steam can reduce the CO₂ emissions of beer

New Belgium Brewing, a popular brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado, plans to replace one of its natural gas-powered brew kettles with an electrified version to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The new system was developed by local start-up AtmosZero and aims to decarbonize the heating process in the brewing industry.

Industrial heat generation is responsible for about ten percent of global carbon dioxide pollution, according to AtmosZero CEO Addison Stark. The sector heavily relies on steam for various processes, which contributes to carbon emissions. Stark and a colleague estimated that this practice alone could result in over two billion tons of carbon dioxide pollution annually worldwide.

New Belgium Brewing, known for its Fat Tire Ale, uses steam to fine-tune temperatures in the brew kettles and extract flavors from hops and grains during the beer production process. While electric brew kettles powered by renewable energy sources like solar and wind power already exist, they are less popular due to their high electricity consumption and costliness.

AtmosZero’s solution uses heat pump technology instead, which operates by circulating a refrigerant with a low boiling point in a closed circuit. This process extracts heat from the surrounding air, increases the refrigerant temperature using a compressor, and boils water to produce steam. Heat pumps are more efficient than resistance heating methods as they mainly focus on collecting and transferring heat, rather than generating it directly. Stark believes that AtmosZero’s commercial device could be twice as efficient as resistance boilers.

AtmosZero is currently in the late-stage development of its first prototype, which is being evaluated at Colorado State University. The company was founded in late 2021 by Stark, along with Todd Bandhauer from the university’s mechanical engineering department and Ashwin Salvi, previously from Achates Power. The start-up aims to address the challenge of decarbonizing industrial heat.

AtmosZero has raised $7.5 million in venture capital and received a $500,000 grant from the US Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program. However, the company still faces challenges in competing with the low cost of natural gas-fired boilers in some markets. Climate policies, such as the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme, could incentivize the adoption of technologies like AtmosZero’s.

To test the feasibility of their technology in a commercial environment, AtmosZero has partnered with New Belgium. The pilot project is scheduled to run for six months and will determine the potential for a commercial deal. New Belgium aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030 and believes that the electrified brew kettle will help them meet their climate targets.

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