Chilean brewers invest in energy efficiency

Beer brewer filling beer

The Chilean brewer Eduardo Aguilar when filling in his brewery Calle Calle; Photo: Kristina Kramer / CAMCHAL

Eduardo Aguilar is a shipbuilder, but since 1999 his great passion has been brewing beer. At Calle Calle, his small private brewery located on the outskirts of Valdivía, a small city in southern Chile, it is possible to bring bottles along and fill them with beer straight from the tap. ‘It’s cheaper,’ he says, and explains that filling and labelling by hand is very complicated and expensive. There is one expense that Aguilar finds particular irritating: the comparatively high electricity and heating costs. Depending on the size of the brewery, this accounts for 10-15% of the production costs. Aguilar is therefore very interested in energy efficiency measures that he can use to save money and even do something to fight climate change.

Factory premises

The implementation of energy efficiency measures is the objective of the Smart Energy Concepts project, which is being supported by the German Federal Environment Ministry’s International Climate Initiative (IKI). The project is working with Chile’s food industry towards reducing its CO2 emissions. With their high energy consumption levels, the breweries in southern Chile play a relevant role. For instance, Chileans drink more beer than they do wine (although it is so well known beyond the country’s borders), or the national drink Pisco, a grape liqueur.

In particular in recent years, around 300 breweries have also been established in the Los Ríos and Los Lagos regions, ranging from small-scale ‘garage breweries’ to medium-sized operations like Kunstmann. The influence of German immigrants on Chile’s brewing landscape is obvious. The breweries have names such as Rothhammer, Tübinger, Starkbier and Mättig, and even in the capital, Santiago, people celebrate the Bierfest rather than a Fiesta de Cerveza.

Brewers’ workshop on energy efficiency measures

Group photo

A workshop within the context of the Smart Energy Concepts project was organised for local brewers on ‘Green Brewing’. Austrian expert Christoph Brunner led the workshop and also held advisory talks with the brewers themselves. ‘The goal was to create awareness through transfer of expertise about the possibilities of saving energy, while also identifying different options,’ emphasised Iris Wunderlich of the Smart Energy Concepts Chile project.

Malt storageFor the Cuello Negro and Bundor breweries, too, reducing energy costs is an important factor. The two businesses have grown steadily in years and now intend to expand their capacities. The expert advice of Brunner came at just the right time for them. ‘If we increase production, we also want to invest in energy efficiency,’ explains Jaime Astete, the master brewer of Bundor, and Cristián Olivares of Cuello Negro also recognises great potential for increasing the efficiency of his brewing processes, and has started taking initial measures.

Larger breweries such as Kunstmann, which with an annual production volume of 120,000 hl would be considered as medium-sized breweries in Germany, have recognised the potential for increasing energy efficiency. However, they often lack capacity and expertise. Experience from Germany and Austria, where breweries have been able to reduce their energy costs through efficiency measures and renewable energy, could help the Chilean brewers. In addition, expert Christoph Brunner also believes that these experiences can be transferred to the Chilean context.

Entrance to factory premises

Politics also plays a role, and a support programme was initiated specifically for beer brewers, with a central focus on energy. The regional representative of the Ministry of Energy, Pablo Diaz, confirms, ‘We want use the aspect of energy to make the region and the beer stand out.’ Armin Kunstmann, manager of the Kunstmann Brewery adds: ‘Increasing the degree of sustainability in our production also means we are supporting the region.’ The potential savings are huge. ‘The majority of the energy required is thermal energy, which is needed in the brewhouse, the heart of every brewery, for cooling the fermentation cellar, and for filling, pasteurisation and washing,’ explains Brunner. He therefore views using the heat from the brewing processes as well as measures to minimise energy lost in the pipes and storage containers as a major opportunity for saving energy.

Use of renewable energy for brewing

Brewer grain

Renewable energy can also be effectively integrated into the processes. Currently, brewers grains removed during the production process are mainly given away for animal feed to nearby producers, but can be used for biogas production, just like the water discharged during the process, which frequently simply runs off into the sewer system. The first steps have already been taken in this direction by larger-scale breweries like Kunstmann. But small-scale producers have also shown interest and have been inspired by the example set by projects in Europe. During the workshop, there was therefore active discussion about forming a cooperative with the goal of jointly producing biogas.

The expert sees good opportunities related to the use of solar thermal plants to warm brewing water, cleaning water and boiler feed water. This was a surprise to the Chileans, as they consider the southern part of their country to be rainy and cold. Although solar energy is a familiar concept in the country’s northern parts, where giant solar plants have been built in recent years in the Atacama Desert, people have been impressed by the fact that solar energy also works in the south, where solar radiation levels are still high in comparison with Germany. 

two men talkingImplementing energy efficiency measures is more difficult, however, for mini-breweries like Valtare. This brewery began in the garage of master brewer Renato Alvarez in the middle of a residential part of Valdivia. Brewing activities have now expanded into his back yard and garden. The living room serves as the office, and the trained actor sits between the aquarium and television, philosophising about the energy consumption of his small brewery. He is very interested in shiny, new and much more efficient brewing equipment, but this is unfortunately unaffordable, so much of his equipment is still homemade. But these inventive solutions are often not ideal. Due to the production volume and budget, the scope for action is limited. In this case, Brunner sees opportunities to improve primarily by optimising processes and insulating the cooling chamber and tanks.
Eduardo Aguilar, on the other hand, has already gone one step further. He burns used frying oil from local restaurants to meet his heating needs, and his boilers are well-insulated.