“We had to be a little more innovative just so that we could do what we love to do, but do it where we're located,” Alaskan Brewing co-founder Geoff Larson said.
But the company was barely turning a profit by selling its spent grain. Alaskan Brewery gets $60 for every ton of it sent to farms in the Lower 48, but it costs them $30 to ship each ton.
So four years ago, brewery officials started looking at whether it could use spent grain as an in-house, renewable energy source and reduce costs at the same time.
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,” says 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 grant funds 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.