Brewing beer in an environmentally sustainable way

Sustainable beer

Three years ago, Alexis Esseltine and Timothy Scoon purchased the Okanagan’s oldest craft brewery, Tin Whistle, founded in 1995.

Since they took over, they have worked hard to make the business more sustainable. That includes both zero waste and lowering their carbon footprint.

Alexis started working in sustainability gradually, investigating paper sourcing while working in print media. To add credentials to her experience, she obtained a masters degree in green business from York University, an experience she describes as a tug-of-war between environmental sciences and the business school. That tug-of-war powers Tin Whistle today. Alexis describes herself as the “environmentalist” balancing her husband, the “capitalist”.

The driver behind Tin Whistle’s environmental philosophy is climate change, which has a direct impact on brewing beer. Beer brewing is seasonal, so summer water restrictions can throttle beer brewing in high season. Dry weather causes a shortage of hops and grains, but it also affects the quality—the grains have increased protein and the hops lack the characteristic bitter flavor. Recurrent summer wildfires and the 2021 Vancouver-to-Okanagan washouts meant distribution had to take different, longer routes. That increased both costs and carbon emissions.

Breweries across B.C. are working on pieces of the sustainability puzzle. Dogwood Brewing is certified organic. Persephone Brewing Company in Gibsons is a Certified B organization. Crannóg Ales, in addition to being organic, carries out water reclamation. There are “local” breweries like Whistle Buoy Brewing and Tofino Brewing Company which buy grains and hops from local farmers. Taking this to an extreme, there are “farm” breweries' such as Abandoned Rail Brewing and Barnside Brewing, which grow their own barley and hops on site. Tin Whistle focuses on reducing carbon and being zero waste.

Zero waste isn't a well defined term but for Tin Whistle it means 100% of its output is recycled, reused or repurposed, leaving nothing to go to the landfill.

One of the first things Alexis did was carry out a waste audit. In particular, making beer generates a large amount of spent grain, which is delivered to a local farmer to use as feed for pigs and cows.

That attention extends even to the little things. Single-use plastic six-pack rings have been replaced in the industry by PakTech, a reusable product. Tin Whistle accepts PakTechs, from any source, offering a 25-cent credit for each ring.

“We see this as a way to engage our customers in environmental action” says Alexis.

There’s currently no carbon neutral/low carbon certification process for breweries. So what does carbon neutral mean for the Tin Whistle?

First. it means that Tin Whistle is always working to reduce its carbon emissions. Alexis says reducing carbon emission never goes away.

“You are continually working on it,” she says.

At the end of the year, Tin Whistle calculates its carbon footprint and then purchases certified carbon offsets through Less/Bullfrog Power. Alexis chooses offsets that are local to B.C., such as the Abbotsford composting facility.

Any business working on sustainability has to worry about when to replace equipment. Newer equipment is much more energy efficient than older models. However, replacing equipment is expensive and has to be done judiciously. In 2021 Tin Whistle had an engineer come in and evaluate the business, recommending replacement equipment and estimating costs and money savings.

In particular, Tin Whistle has an aging chiller cooling the keg room, which Alexis suspected was using up too much electricity. She reached out to David Kassian at the City of Penticton. As a pilot project, using B.C. Local Government Climate Action funds, David purchased a motor logger— an inexpensive device that he installed on the equipment. The motor logger records how the equipment runs—if it is on too much of the time or if it is turning on and off too rapidly. Alexis will share this data with an engineer and decide whether to repair or replace the refrigerator.

As for what she knows that she can pass on to businesses beginning their path to sustainability, Alexis says, “Just get started.”

“Measure first. You can't manage what you don't measure. Read your utility bills. Dump your garbage out. Get numbers. From there you can plan how to reduce. Don't go at it alone either- engage with competitors, your municipality, your local post-secondary institution. They all have knowledge and love to share it,” she says.

“Lastly, don't let perfection get in the way of progress. Get started. Get on the path. The world needs us to act.”

If you want to conduct a waste audit for your business, you can find instructions on the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen website.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Deep energy retrofit can reduce your home’s energy use by 50%.

Deep energy retrofits

You swapped out your incandescent lightbulbs for LEDs. You replaced your furnace and your air conditioning unit with a high performance heat pump. You’ve caulked for leaks around windows and doors. You got rid of the harvest gold beer fridge in the garage.

All of these steps were important and they quickly reduced your carbon footprint. They have short payback periods, and will continue to save you money in the years to come.

What’s the next step? Your house is still using a lot of electricity. Why? The house leaks air and has 1980-era insulation. You need a “deep energy retrofit.” A deep energy retrofit is designed to reduce your home’s energy use by at least 50%. Beyond the cash savings, a deep energy retrofit makes your home more comfortable (no more hot and cold spots) and prepares you to withstand extreme weather events, such as heat domes and unusual cold spells.

Deep retrofits come with several challenges. Compared to the quick wins described above, they are big projects. They are expensive. They aren’t common (yet), so finding a contractor with experience in deep energy retrofits can be hard and contractors are often averse to doing new projects or doing things in a new way.

Deep energy retrofits include building shell improvements that provide more insulation for the roof, walls and basement or crawl space. The new shell will be carefully sealed against leaks, controlling the air exchange rate. Your house was probably built with 2x4 or 2x6 wooden studs. That means that both the outside and the interior are in direct contact with the stud. During the winter, the stud becomes a “thermal bridge”, transmitting the cold from outside. You can see this in infrared photos—cold studs and warm surrounding walls. A deep energy retrofit provides continuous insulation to avoid thermal bridging.

Windows and doors are the weak link in your house’s energy. You can’t do without them but they are much more poorly insulated than typical walls and they can leak heat. During a deep energy retrofit windows and doors are replaced. It may also involve rejigging the HVAC system, controlling ventilation and recovering heat.

Finally, you may want to replace other appliances, such as the washer, dryer or stove with energy efficient models. A general rule of thumb is a deep energy retrofit brings your house up to R-20 basement walls, R-40 for the above-grade walls, R-60 roofs, and U-0.20 windows. You can see several different deep energy retrofit case studies at retrofitcanada.com/case-studies

There’s been a trend to carry out deep retrofits using factory-built structural insulated panels (SIPs). These panels act like an extra exterior “wall”, wrapping the building with a layer of high R value insulation. The house is carefully measured and walls (with windows built in) are built to specification at the factory. The pieces come directly from the factory and are lifted into place by a crane. The advantage is that construction is quicker, which could save money, and there’s less disruption to the occupants.

If you don’t have the money to carry out a complete retrofit in one go, you can stage the retrofit—take it step by step. However, this requires careful planning. You don’t want to undo or take apart previous work.

For example, if you install a heat pump before you re-insulate, the house will require a bigger and more expensive heat pump. Improving insulation and airtightness in your walls will add several inches to the thickness of the wall. High energy efficient windows are often thicker than standard double pane windows. To accommodate the additional depth, you probably want to install insulation and new windows simultaneously.

Every deep retrofit should start with an energy audit by a certified energy advisor. In B.C. you can find a local certified energy advisor at betterhomesbc.ca/ea/ (residents of Penticton should get this done for $35 through the HELP loan program).

Many deep retrofit projects are supported by low-interest loans, rebates and tax deductions. A good place to start is betterhomesbc.ca/. There is also a list of federal loans and tax deductions collected by Green Communities Canada at deepenergyretrofits.ca/rebates-incentives/.

What is the biggest hurdle to deep energy retrofits? The temptation to remodel. It is a slippery slope. Putting in new attic insulation? The kitchen really needs to be updated. Replacing windows? It would be great to have a front porch. So plan your deep retrofit. Split it into stages if you need to and don’t add the renovations.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Can concrete be carbon neutral?

Concrete's carbon impact

Some aspects of our economy are easy to decarbonize.

We are well on our way switching cars from internal combustion to electric. We are rapidly adding carbon-free electricity from solar panels and wind turbines. However, there are areas where it is not easy to decarbonize. At the top of that list is concrete.

According to Our World in Data, cement production is responsible for 3% of worldwide emissions—more emissions than aviation or landfills.

The world uses a lot of concrete. It is estimated at 30 billion tons are used each year. It is inexpensive, durable, strong and resilient. We cannot do without concrete. As the population grows, the amount we need is increasing. Global warming only makes this worse. Concrete plays a big role as we try to adapt to climate change, think of construction protecting communities from sea level rise.

Concrete is made of sand, gravel, water and cement, which is the binder that makes concrete harden and keeps it strong. While cement only makes up 15% of concrete, it is responsible for 80% of emissions. The fundamental problem today is how we make cement. Cement starts as limestone, which is crushed and then heated to1,450 C in a kiln to create lime.

Concrete can be “recycled,” where it is crushed and used to replace sand and gravel, but while that prevents concrete from overwhelming landfills, it doesn’t change the amount of greenhouse gases released in the production of cement.

Let’s take a look at two parts of this process, starting with heat.

The super high temperature needed to create lime from limestone is created using powdered coal, oil or gas (it is worth noting that in this context, gas is indeed a low emission fuel, releasing about 40% less CO2 than coal and oil). Electricity is poor at creating this kind of heat, and while it is possible to achieve these temperatures with concentrated solar power, fluctuations from nighttime and clouds remain a problem.

A study by the Canadian Energy Systems Analysis Research simulated using a mix of natural gas and alternative fuels to create cement, such as plastic waste or wood dust. The problem is those energy sources have a lower heating value and a higher moisture content. Because of these and other differences, a 50-50 mix of alternative fuel and natural gas requires a lot more oxygen and heating and pumping oxygen actually generated more CO2 than using gas alone by itself.

Now, let's look at the chemical transformation from limestone to lime. Limestone is mostly calcium carbonate and lime is calcium oxide. As the “carbonate” in the name suggests, limestone contains carbon which is released in the form of carbon dioxide during the high-temperature chemical reaction in the kiln. Sixty percent of the carbon emissions from cement come from this chemical reaction.

So cement has two problems—the high temperature needed to change limestone into lime and the chemical reaction that releases CO2 in that high temperature reaction. Is this hopeless? No. Project Drawdown, a collection of current-technology climate change solutions, takes aim at both the energy used generating the high temperatures and the limestone-to-lime CO2 emissions.

First, as with so many areas, they suggest beginning by upgrading to more energy efficient equipment. Then they suggest switching from lime as a binder. Natural products such as calcined clay can be used. More exciting is the possibility to use waste such as granulated slag (a by product of steel) or recycled glass. There are several small companies today that produce alternative cement such as CarbonCrete in Montreal or Brimstone in California.

So the carbon footprint of concrete can be reduced by energy efficiency. It can be reduced by switching from limestone to an alternate material. However, concrete can also be a carbon storage solution. One of the hottest areas of research is using concrete to lock away carbon emissions. There are companies doing this including CarbonCure (from Dartmouth Nova Scotia) and CarbonBuilt (from California). Both these companies collect CO2 and inject it into the concrete. The great thing about pumping carbon into concrete, is that it is permanent storage. You can store carbon by planting a tree, but trees can die, be chopped down or burned in a forest fire, releasing their stored carbon back into the atmosphere. Carbon injected into concrete is there to stay.

Concrete is irreplaceable in modern construction and there’s a lot of carbon emissions from how we create cement today. But there is a three prong solution: energy efficiency, alternatives to cement, and carbon capture and storage. We can update our cement manufacturing, taking energy efficiency steps to create high temperatures with less fuel. We can switch the binder from cement to alternatives that don’t release as much CO2. And finally we can integrate carbon storage in all concrete production.

Concrete’s problem is that it isn’t snazzy like solar panels or lovely like forests but it is literally the foundation of society. We have the tools, now let’s use them.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Potential environmental crises worse than global warming

Worse than global warming

For those of us who work in the field of climate change, it is some consolation to take a break and reflect there are crises worse than global warming.

Giant meteor: Sixty-six million years ago, a meteor impact triggered an extinction event that killed most of the dinosaurs. When the meteor hit, it was a double whammy. First, rock fragments triggered fires as far away as 2000 kilometres from the site. Those fires put carbon dioxide, methane and carbon monoxide into the air. Then the impact itself put microdust into the air, blocking sunlight and cooling the planet drastically. Winter-like conditions lasted for two full years and long-term effects lowered average temperatures by as much as 15 C over the next 15 years. Less sunlight means less plant life, which means less available food. Scientists estimate 75% of species went extinct. Don’t worry, a rock that size only hits Earth every 100 million years or so.

Death of the Sun: The Sun, our beloved yellow dwarf star, is critical to life on earth. Five billion years from now the sun will begin to run out of fuel. Currently it burns hydrogen, turning it into helium. When the supply of hydrogen gets low, it will start to burn helium creating carbon. Fusing helium creates much more heat and this heat will cause the outer layer of the star to puff up and get much larger. Our sun will expand, becoming a red giant, swallowing up Mercury, Venus, and Earth in the process.

Supervolcanos: Earthquakes have the Richter scale and volcanoes are measured by the “Volcanic Explosivity Index” (VEI). Vesuvius had a VEI of five and Kracatoa was a six, to name some familiar eruptions. During April 1815, Mount Tambora in Indonesia erupted, with a maximum VEI of seven on April 10. Approximately 10,000 people were killed as a direct result of the explosion. A further 50,000 in the vicinity of the explosion died of hunger and disease. However, the biggest impact came from worldwide changes in the weather. The year 1816 is known as “the year without a summer.” Many compounds (such as methane, carbon dioxide and water) increase the atmospheric greenhouse effect, making the earth warmer. However volcanoes release sulfur (in the form of sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide) into the air, where it interacts with hydroxide and water to create sulfuric acid aerosols. These fine droplets reduce the Earth’s temperature by increasing the amount of sunlight reflected back into space. In 1816, so much sulfur was released into the atmosphere that the growing season was ruined—lower temperatures (including frost in June, July and August) destroyed crops and the crops that survived didn’t receive enough sunlight to thrive. Weather patterns were altered with some regions experiencing flooding and some drought due to changed monsoon patterns. It’s hard to estimate how many people died due to the world-wide knock on effects. Will this happen again? Yes but probably not soon. Some estimates suggest that VEI-seven explosions occur on the time scale of 200 to 400 years. Volcanoes to watch include Atitlan in Guatemala, Cerro Negro in Chile and Taal in the Philippines.

The Great Oxygenation Event: “The Great Oxygenation Event” took place 2.4 billion years ago during the Paleoproterozoic. Life on earth consisted of single cell organisms which were adapted to a life without oxygen. But then cyanobacteria started to take over. These were the first life forms capable of photosynthesis, (i.e., they could generate energy from sunlight) and photosynthesis took in carbon dioxide and created oxygen. Other life forms found the oxygen to be extremely toxic. It killed off 96% of the existing species. For the cyanobacteria photosynthesis was a powerful advantage and led to multi-celled organisms and eventually to the development of plants and animals. In addition to changing the makeup of the atmosphere, the Great Oxygenation Event changed the climate. The makeup of the atmosphere changed from methane (a strong greenhouse gas) to carbon dioxide (a weaker one) which probably triggered an ice age. It may be the most significant impact on the environment in the history of the planet.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

More Sustainability Spotlight articles

About the Author

Kristy Dyer has worked in the sustainability field for more than 10 years, including work with solar energy in New Mexico and cleantech in Silicon Valley. After she moved to the Okanagan, she ran a small business, Teaspoon Energy, doing energy audits of large houses. Most recently, she worked for a B.C. business doing carbon footprints for tourism organizations.

She has written about sustainability since 2012. You can find her columns archived at TeaspoonEnergy.blogspot.com.

Dyer has a background in physics and astronomy, and has occasionally been caught trying to impersonate an engineer.

A long-time member of First Things First, Penticton’s local climate change group, whose goals are to educate and lobby for solutions to the climate crisis, Dyer is honoured to live, work and play in the unceded, ancestral and traditional territory of the Syilx Okanagan Nation.

You can contact her at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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