Brewery tackles drought with tech

[caption id="attachment_86448" align="alignnone" width="500"] Cambrian Innovation's EcoVolt unit is an enclosed system than can be stacked to accommodate a growing operation.[/caption]

CLOVERDALE -- Bear Republic Brewing Company is tackling drought conditions with ingenuity, said to be the first brewery to try a new water-cleaning, energy-producing system developed for the U.S military.

The company has installed an initial unit of EcoVolt, produced by Boston-based Cambrian Innovation ( Designed to treat wastewater and generate biogas using a proprietary bio-electric technology, the system is expected to cut water treatment costs, generate clean water and energy for use on site and significantly reduce the brewery's carbon footprint.

"We were looking for ways to conserve water in the face of threatening drought and saw the EcoVolt system being installed in a nearby winery," said Bear Republic owner and CEO Richard Norgrove Sr.

Bear Republic ( spent "seven figures -- between $1 million and $5 million, so far" on the system, he said, which is enclosed in a freight car-sized trailer. The units are stackable and can be added easily to support a growing operation.

Inside the unit, wastewater is exposed to electrically active organisms that eliminate 80 percent to 90 percent of the biological oxygen demand, a measure of organic compounds. The system also converts carbon dioxide directly into biogas that can be used onsite to generate both heat and electricity.

 "We'll use the energy to power our generator," said Mr. Norgrove, adding that the system is still being tweaked to adjust it to the brewery's needs. Three months on site, the EcoVolt technology has already resulted in water conservation.

[caption id="attachment_86447" align="alignleft" width="300"] The EcoVolt unit at Bear Republic's Cloverdale brewery is expected to cut water-treatment costs, generate clean water and energy for use on site and significantly reduce the plant's carbon footprint.[/caption]

Bear Republic uses lots of water to produce its 72,000 barrels of beer a year: 31 gallons goes into every barrel and 3.5 gallons per barrel goes into the brewing process. Typically, breweries use 10 times the amount of water for the beer produced.

"We've worked hard to reduce our water use to a 3.5 to 1 ratio," said Mr. Norgrove. "With EcoVolt we expect to do even better. The city of Cloverdale red-lined us at 8 million gallons of water a year, but we use less than that."

Last year, Bear Republic advanced the city $500,000 to speed construction of two new city wells, expected to produce between 600 and 1,000 gallons per minute when they come into use in July of this year.

Bear Republic's expansion plans included growing its water use to 17.5 million gallons by the end of 2016. Those plans are not necessarily on hold, although the situation bears watching.

"The drought is certainly affecting everybody, although Cloverdale is in better shape than some cities with the additional wells. At the worst, if we have to reduce production, we would hope to keep all of our current employees."

Bear Republic currently employs 132 in its Healdsburg brewery-restaurant and the Cloverdale facility.

"We'd love to grow the Cloverdale operation into a destination brewery. But even more important is our stewardship of the land and the sustainability of our business, as it has been since day one," said Mr. Norgrove.

"We hope to weather this drought, and with the help of this technology and the support of the city of Cloverdale we feel we have a pretty good chance," he said.

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