Heineken turns wasted beer into green energy to power new beer production

This time last year, speaking at a Downing Street press briefing, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that pubs were to be shut due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Twelve months later, they’re still shut.

As well as the impact on people’s livelihoods, tens of millions of pints destined to be enjoyed by people across the country have gone quite literally down the drain. But the team at the Heineken brewery in Manchester have found an innovative way to turn this wasted beer into green energy.

With The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) predicting around 87 million pints will have been thrown away as a result of pub closures during the Covid-19 lockdowns around the UK - the equivalent to £331m worth of beer. Heineken, as part of its Brewing A Better World sustainability strategy, wanted to do what it could to help.

For the first time ever, the machine that fills beer kegs destined for pubs has been put into reverse – it’s being used to empty thousands of kegs instead. This beer is then turned into green energy - and using it to power the brewing kettles and canning pasteurisers.

Since May 2020, the brewery has processed an incredible 83,210 fifty litre kegs which is the equivalent to 6,989,640 pints. Or to put it into context enough power to heat nearly 28,000 average UK homes for a day, make 45,488,120 cups of tea or power 6,317,794 hours of binge watching.

Having successfully found a way to reverse the kegging line, the next stage of the innovative solution is all down to an innocuous looking shipping container which houses an incredibly powerful piece of kit.

Its proper name is a combined heat and power unit (CHP) which converts the biogas into heat and electricity, but it’s affectionately known as ‘Merlin’ because it contains a whopping 27 litre V12 engine – the equivalent of a Merlin engine which powered the world-famous Spitfire plane. The biogas is also converted into heat in the site steam boilers utilising state of the equipment.

The thousands of full kegs, which couldn’t be sent to pubs because of the lockdown, are emptied and the beer is stored in empty brewing vessels before being drip-fed into the site’s waste water treatment plant (WWTP).

It has then put into the anaerobic digester at the WWTP which converts the alcohol in the beer into biogas. The biogas, which is 100% sustainable and renewable, is then used to supplement the energy the site needs to brew beer and pasteurise and cans.

The WWTP has been operating at full capacity processing the equivalent of 70,000 litres of beer a day.

Matt Callan, Heineken's Brewery and Operations Director, said, “After all the care, attention and passion that went into brewing the beer in the first place, it would have been a great shame to pour it down the drain – no brewer wants to see their beer not be enjoyed.

'Our team of engineers and brewers at Manchester found a solution – using our kegging line to empty beer barrels and turning the beer that would have gone to waste into green energy to power the brewing of fresh beer, all ready for when the pubs reopen.

“We’re always looking to find new innovative ways to brew a better world, and this solution is a win-win for drinkers and reducing our impact on the planet.”