Brewing & Winemaking: Sustainable Treatment Options for High-Strength Effluent Challenges

Aug. 28, 2015
Due to the strength of effluent, many breweries and wineries regularly contend with municipal surcharges or must truck wastewater away to larger plants that are better equipped for treating it. For these reasons, they are increasingly implementing on-site treatment solutions that work to reduce the strength of discharged effluent or that close the loop on water and wastewater processes, enabling for more efficient water use and decreased wastewater volumes.

By Jeff Gunderson

Brewing and winemaking are water-intensive operations and generate significant quantities of high-strength pollutant wastewaters, presenting unique challenges in terms of water management and wastewater treatment. Discharges from brewery and winery processes typically contain elevated levels of biological oxygen demand (BOD) and total suspended solids (TSS) and can represent one of the largest sources of organic loading to a community wastewater treatment facility.

Due to the strength of these effluents, many breweries and wineries regularly contend with municipal surcharges or -- if their discharges can't be handled by local facilities -- must truck wastewater away to larger plants that are better equipped for treating it.

For these reasons, many breweries and wineries are increasingly implementing on-site treatment solutions that work to reduce the strength of discharged effluent or that close the loop on water and wastewater processes, enabling for more efficient water use and decreased wastewater volumes.

Greg Chung, vice president of West Yost Associates, an engineering firm specializing in sustainable water and wastewater management, explained that challenges related to brewery and winery effluents can be especially pronounced in smaller communities, where many microbreweries and independent wineries take root.

"The elevated concentrations of organic content from a new brewery can potentially push a smaller treatment facility over capacity," he said. "Likewise, the seasonality of the wine industry and the influx of organic waste during crush season can be problematic from a load standpoint for a smaller plant with a flow-through process."

These issues can represent a dilemma for a community that wants to encourage business growth, according to Chung. "A brewery can be wonderful for a smaller community, but if it will strain treatment operations, should that community be willing to expand its treatment capacity or push the responsibility back on the brewery?"

RWL Water installed a new expanded granular sludge bed anaerobic reactor at the wastewater treatment plant serving the Peroni Brewery in Bari, Italy. Together with two existing anaerobic digesters, the new anaerobic reactor produces thermal energy for the factory boiler.

On the other hand, the high-strength organic nature of these waste streams -- while difficult to handle in terms of loading -- also offers the opportunity for energy recovery and a sustainable solution, if the economics can be justified.

"The advantage of this type of waste stream is that it is amenable to codigestion and biogas recovery or direct energy recovery, providing a payback in energy savings as well as in heat recovery," Chung said. "In addition, the treated process water can potentially be reused, which is becoming more critical for industries in drought-prone regions and especially in California."

Leonardo Turolla, vice president of sales and marketing with RWL Water Italia, explained that anaerobic digestion processes can reduce pollutant loading by 80 to 85 percent prior to aerobic treatment and can be particularly advantageous in large breweries where produced biogas has optional uses.

"Biogas can be utilized for cogeneration or as a fuel for powering boilers -- whatever is most appropriate," Turolla said. "The combination of thermal and electrical energy generation can establish a positive energy balance in a facility. And with the potential for capex recovery in as little as two years, the business case for this type of technology is very strong."

With big brewers requiring at a minimum double the amount of water to produce a given quantity of beer and generating as much as 200,000 to 500,000 gallons of wastewater every day, Turolla noted that these large companies are under an urgent need to reduce their water and carbon footprints, especially as water scarcity becomes more of a driving concern.

"We are seeing a bigger push within this industry to reduce treatment costs, use less primary water, minimize discharge volumes, and incorporate technologies that enable for more efficient and sustainable operations," he said.

Treatment Innovations

In recent years, a growing number of sustainably focused and cleantech solutions have emerged on the market in response to rising demand for wastewater treatment technologies that are lower energy, produce less sludge, capitalize on waste-to-energy opportunities, and provide reclaimed water for reuse. Many of these technologies are uniquely suited to brewing and winemaking operations.

For example, Boston-based Cambrian Innovation's EcoVolt -- an advanced anaerobic treatment system that employs a proprietary bioelectric technology to treat wastewater and generate energy -- is being used at Lagunitas and Bear Republic breweries, both in California. The EcoVolt system leverages electrically active microbes to produce pure methane fuel, which in turn can be used to create renewable heat and electricity. Treated water generated from the process can also be utilized for varying degrees of reuse.

Winery process wastewater at Constellation Brands' Mission Bell Winery prior to and following treatment with BioFiltro's BIDA system.

Another cleantech option well-matched for breweries and wineries is EcoEthic's BioGill, a low-energy biological wastewater treatment system that includes a flexible ceramic membrane -- or "gills" -- that function as an aboveground bioreactor. Microorganisms supported by an oxygen-rich environment break down nutrients in wastewater streams that flow over the gills, with the only energy expenditure allocated for recirculating wastewater. BioGill is currently being utilized by Cave Springs Cellars, located outside Niagara Falls, to treat winery wastewater.

In California, at Constellation Brands' Mission Bell Winery in Madera County, another innovative treatment system that utilizes earthworms and microorganisms for breaking down and treating wastewater is being tested in a 6-month pilot trial. The BIDA® system, from Chile-based BioFiltro, is an organic aerobic biofilter capable of delivering up to 98 percent reductions in BOD and TSS in as little as 4 hours.

The modular, decentralized system incorporates earthworms and aerobic microbial bacteria in a top layer of wood shavings above subsequent layers of textile, river cobble and drainage cells. After undergoing a primary filtration process, wastewater is sprinkled over the surface of the system, where the wood shavings catch the large organic solids that are then consumed by earthworms.

Earthworm castings contain bacteria that work in tandem with microbial bacteria inoculated by BioFiltro to eliminate the dissolved contaminants in the wastewater. River cobble provides additional filtration before the water flows out of the system. Water generated from the treatment process can be reused towards irrigation, and the produced castings can be used as compost.

Water exits from the BIDA system at the Viña Indomita winery following treatment.

The BIDA system is both flexible and scalable, able to be customized to address specific waste streams and needs, said Mai Ann Healy, regional manager of BioFiltro. "The solution can be configured as the sole wastewater treatment system for an operation, or it can serve as an add-on to an existing system," she said. "Water can be treated to a level suitable for irrigation and/or be discharged at a much more favorable rate given the pretreatment. Also, because it incorporates a modular design, the system can be easily expanded to accommodate operational growth."

With no sludge produced from the treatment process and using as little as 5 percent of the energy required for traditional wastewater systems, the BIDA solution offers considerable opportunity for immediate, sustainable benefits and tangible cost savings, according to Healy.

A BIDA installation at the Viña Indomita winery in Casablanca, Chile.

"Some of the largest wineries in California right now are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year just on trucking costs for hauling sludge," she said. "The BIDA solution not only removes this expense but also eliminates the high chemical costs associated with sludge management while also eliminating the chance of fines being levied from BOD and TSS loadings that are too high."

For wineries and other industrial applications, the BIDA treatment process represents a way for companies to close the loop within their operations and promote environmental stewardship, according to Healy. "Not only are wineries able to treat all their wastewater on site and use that water to irrigate their vines," she said, "but the fertilizer that's produced from the process can be applied right back to their land."

About the Author: Jeff Gunderson is a correspondent for Industrial WaterWorld. He is a professional writer with over 10 years of experience, specializing in areas connected to water, environment and building, including wastewater, stormwater, infrastructure, natural resources, and sustainable design. He holds a master's degree in environmental science and engineering from the Colorado School of Mines and a bachelor's degree in general science from the University of Oregon.

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