Brewing up power: Beer maker finalizes biofuels project 

By Jonathan Grass, Alaska Journal of Commerce: Alaskan Brewing Co. has entered the final stage of a 16-year process in setting a precedent in renewable energy. The Juneau-based brewery has a new boiler to make its own malt waste a sole energy source and has been selected for nearly $500,000 in federal money to finish the job.

Alaskan Brewing is in the commission and testing phases of a $1.8 million steam boiler fueled entirely by the company’s own spent grain. The grain is a protein-rich material that lends itself thoroughly with the combustion technology the company has been perfecting.

The idea is that the new boiler will eliminate the brewery’s fossil fuel use in the grain drying process and displace more than half of the fuel needed to create process steam in the brew house.

The brewery is currently a fairly intensive oil-related operation, currently running the grain dryer and other process heating from oil. Engineers estimate the completed boiler will help save an overall energy usage from oil and corresponding carbon emissions by more than 70 percent. This translates to a savings of nearly 1.5 million gallons of oil over the next 10 years.

The boiler was actually built last year and did an initial startup toward the end of the year. Testing showed the need for additional modifications. The company currently is waiting for additional design modifications to come and engineers hope it will be back up within a few months.

Brewing operations manager Brandon Smith said the entire system hopefully would be completed and running by the end of the first quarter this year and no later than the second quarter.

“This fuel, nobody’s ever burned it commercially before,” he said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has selected Alaskan Brewing for $448,366 in Rural Energy for America Program funds to support the development. Despite being a capital city, Juneau’s demographics still qualify the brewery for a rural development grant. Alaskan Brewery communications manager Ashley Johnston said the grant would hopefully offset up to 10 percent of the overall system costs. Smith said paperwork is under way for the official approval, which will be done after the completion of the project. This grant represents the highest amount an Alaska business has been awarded from the USDA Rural Development’s business division. This has been active in Alaska for three years, during which it has approved 49 projects.

USDA business and energy specialist Chad Stovall said the business division typically gets $200,000 to $250,000 a year for projects. The national office must approve anything over that amount, which was how Alaskan got its unusually high appropriation.Read more

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