Brewer’s spent grain (BSG) is the primary byproduct of the brewing industry and, if not managed properly, can become a source of food waste. The article “Sustainable Uses of Spent Grain” by Kay Witkiewicz details innovative ways that craft breweries are repurposing their spent grain to prevent waste.
“While breweries such as Twisted Pine Brewing Co. and Hangar 24 Craft Brewery employ “farm-to-foam” approaches in creating seasonal beers using local ingredients, many others give back the bulk of their spent grain to their agricultural communities—from “foam-to-farm” so to speak.”
A closed-loop system is the economic model of a circular economy. When products no longer serve their original purpose they are upcycled into new ones, often leading to nontraditional uses of materials that would otherwise end up in landfills.
The farm-to-foam/foam-to-farm concept discussed in the article is similar to a closed loop. Using spent grain as a farming input not only diverts it from waste streams but also reduces the amount of new grain needed for animal feed.
While this is one way to repurpose spent grain, it doesn’t upcycle the byproduct and only scratches the surface of how spent grain can contribute to a sustainable future. Spent grain can also be used as an agricultural input for growing crops, which creates new life out of the byproduct and goes one step further in closing the loop.
“In some way the beer you’re drinking might also be on your plate.”
The article also discusses a restaurant called Gravity 1020- the tavern at Fort Collins Brewery in Colorado- that bakes bread using spent grain used in brewing at Fort Collins. This is another use of spent grain that can help reduce the amount of new grain that needs to be grown. Based on the quantity of wheat grown in the US and the potential of spent grain to replace roughly 20% of traditional wheat flour, if BSG flour were adopted to its full potential it would result in 12.6 million acres of land being freed up to grow other, more nutrient-dense grains.
Finally, at the forefront of spent grain innovation, Alaskan Brewing Co uses their spent grain to fuel a biomass steam boiler that greatly reduces the amount of fuel needed for both the brewing process and the grain drying process.
“With this technology, ABC is taking sustainability to a new level, using their raw material waste to power their day-to-day brewing operations, thus creating a perpetual loop that conserves energy, saves money and is readily available.”
This innovative solution demonstrates the potential of spent grain as an energy source and the limitless possibilities that can arise when employing sustainable frameworks to solve everyday problems like food waste.
These creative uses of spent grain are wins for both craft breweries and the communities they serve because of the revenue streams added by new products and the benefits those products bring to the communities. In true alignment with the triple bottom line framework, the spent grain industry provides profit for companies and benefit to people while furthering the goal of sustainability.
Wheat is the primary grain used in U.S. grain products — approximately three-quarters of all U.S. grain products are made from wheat flour. About half of the wheat grown in the United States is used domestically. In 2008/2009, U.S. farmers grew nearly 2.4 billion bushels of wheat on 63 million acres of land. In the United States, one acre of wheat yields an average of around 40 bushels of wheat.
Let’s assume from the above stats that 20% of traditional flour made from wheat can be replaced with BSG. That would be about half a billion bushels and 126 million acres of land that could be used to grow other more nutritious grains; quinoa, buckwheat, rye, oats, barley, millet (consumer demand is increasing so research an article or two on this).