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Sierra Nevada Brewing takes top sustainability honor

In its inaugural Sustainable Plant of the Year Award ceremony, Food Engineering

Editor in Chief Joyce Fassl (right) presents Food Engineering’s 2009 Sustainable Plant of the Year award to Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Sustainability Coordinator Cheri Chastain.

Food Engineering bestowed its top honor to Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. (SNBC), Chico, CA. Accepting the award at the event held last month in Las Vegas and sponsored by Atlas Copco, SNBC Sustainability Coordinator Cheri Chastain reviewed the features that earned the facility this honor.

The craft brewer got its start in 1980 with a humble investment in used dairy equipment and packaging machines, and from its beginnings, found it necessary to conserve and recycle whenever possible to keep costs down. Today, the plant is active in conserving energy and water, reducing emissions, using efficient transportation systems and recycling wherever it can. The goal is to be as self-sufficient as possible.

To reduce energy, Chastain says heat recovery equipment has been installed to capture excess heat from boilers, fuel cells and kettles. Energy-efficient controlled lighting is used throughout, and electronics and equipment were chosen to minimize the use of energy. Monitoring equipment keeps track of the process and facility energy expenditures, and employees were trained to save energy.

The facility has its own co-generation fuel cells, which generate up to 1.2 MW, and they can be powered by either natural gas or biogas byproducts captured from the brewing process. Waste heat is converted to steam for maintaining brewing temperatures. Food-grade carbon dioxide, recovered from the brewing process, is used for carbonation in bottling, keg pressurization and counter-pressure in holding tanks and provides all of the CO2 the plant requires.

Measures to conserve water-critical in California-include automated CIP systems, efficient cleaning and rinsing systems, scheduling, internal flow meters, hose bib retrofits and education. All these efforts and more keep water usage to about 290,000 gallons per day.

An on-site wastewater treatment plant processes all brewery water, has a two-stage aerobic and anaerobic capability and produces biogas for heating and electricity generation. The brewery is a firm believer of intermodal transport, with rail doing the long trips. In 2008, SNBC diverted 68,000 tons from landfill and avoided $4.5 million in waste hauler charges. Just about everything imaginable at the plant is recycled-from spent grains and yeast to cans, bottles, packaging material, batteries, compost and construction debris.

For more details on the brewery, see Food Engineering’s September issue. For more information on next year’s contest, visit

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