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Anheuser-Busch is Going Green: Brewer Makes a Strong Effort to Use Renewable Energy, Cut Emissions

August 1, 2008

ST. LOUIS, Mo. _ Anheuser-Busch Cos. wants to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. It wants to increase its use of renewable fuels. It also wants to make money.

That’s where wind, sunshine and stinky landfills come in. Presto! Money-saving conservation projects.

St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch is on a mission to get its U.S. breweries to use renewable fuels for more than 15 percent of their combined energy needs by 2010. As energy costs rise, that goal has become more important for the country’s biggest brewer.

On Wednesday, A-B unveiled the latest stage in its plan. The company’s breweries in Houston and Fairfield, Calif., are installing alternative energy technology that will be up and running by the end of the year.

“We’ve always had a very keen interest in our environmental footprint,” said Doug Muhleman, group vice president of brewing operations and technology at Anheuser-Busch’s U.S. beer subsidiary.

The Houston brewery will use biogas _ mostly methane from the decomposition of waste _ piped six miles from a landfill as part of an alternative fuel plan. When combined with the facility’s bio-energy recovery system _ a system to draw energy from brewing wastewater _ alternative fuels will provide more than 70 percent of the Houston brewery’s fuel needs.

Meanwhile, the Fairfield brewery will receive a small portion of its electricity from on-site solar panels. The facility also will get a bio-energy recovery system, or BERS, this year.

BERS involves using bacteria to eat particles of waste in brewing wastewater. The resulting methane created by the bacteria helps fire a brewery’s boilers. Anheuser-Busch’s St. Louis brewery relies on BERS for a portion of its energy. The company has used the technology since 1985.

To start up the BERS process once the Fairfield facility is built, a soupy culture of anaerobic bacteria will be shipped to Fairfield from A-B’s Los Angeles brewery, which currently employs the technology.

The Fairfield brewery will generate 15 percent of its fuel needs from BERS. When its brewery in Williamsburg, Va., implements the technology next year, BERS will be operational at 11 of Anheuser-Busch’s 12 breweries.

The company has quickened the pace of its environmental initiatives in the last five years.

In that period, Anheuser-Busch breweries have reduced their energy use by 8 percent per barrel of beer packaged, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The company said it aims to reduce its total U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases by 5 percent in 2010 compared to 2005 levels. Anheuser-Busch said that reduction is the equivalent of taking nearly 30,000 passenger vehicles off the road or heating more than 14,000 houses.

The brewer also is mulling the use of wind power at its Fairfield and Fort Collins, Colo., breweries.

Together, the initiatives are “not so little,” said Muhleman. “It adds up.”

As energy costs rise, big brewers are trying to adapt. Coors Brewing has reduced energy use at its breweries by 16 percent per barrel of beer in the last two years.

The U.S. combination of Coors and Miller _ Chicago-based MillerCoors _ said it produces millions of barrels of ethanol annually from waste beer.

“What many people are looking at is a hybrid situation, where they use some landfill gas, some wind, some solar, and also _ inside the factory _ higher levels of energy efficiency,” said Saifur Rahman, vice president for the IEEE Power and Energy Society and director of the Advanced Research Institute at Virginia Tech.

Piping landfill gas to major manufacturing sites is not a new process, said Paul Wintheiser, senior engineer at CTI and Associates, a consulting firm in Brighton, Mich.

Chrysler taps into landfills, as do General Motors, Ford and NASA, said Wintheiser. Hundreds of U.S. landfills have gotten on board in the last 25 years.

“The price of natural gas has been going up,” he said. Companies are “looking for a less expensive source of fuel.” Also, because methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, keeping it out of the atmosphere has environmental benefits.

Anheuser-Busch did not provide a dollar figure for the cost savings resulting from its environmental initiatives, but cost cutting became a more pressing goal as the company tried to beat off an unsolicited takeover bid from InBev of Belgium. With that $52 billion buyout expected to close this year, Anheuser-Busch will continue with its cost-cutting program; parts of the program, code-named Blue Ocean, had been in the works for about two years.

“The best hedge against energy costs is conservation,” Muhleman said.

The brewer’s engineers, including a cadre of youngish new hires, are ferreting out possible improvements in the area of greenhouse gas emissions and renewable fuels.

Anheuser-Busch is reducing its electricity usage and water flow _ cutting the corresponding bill for heating the water _ and devising systems to specifically track which areas of the brewery are using too much power.

Managers allow employees to pursue conservation projects, said Muhleman. But the marching orders are clear: “You’ve got to come back with projects that pay.”

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(c) 2008, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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