At 155 years, MillerCoors LLC’s Milwaukee brewery is the oldest in the company’s combined network of facilities.
From its 82-acre State Street campus with 76 buildings, the Milwaukee operation has brewed at or near record volumes during the past 18 months, making 6.8 million barrels of beer in 2008 and 8.2 million barrels in 2009. The brewery expects to generate more than 9 million barrels in 2010.
“Between May and August, we’re making about 900,000 barrels per month,” said Andrew Moschea, vice president of the Milwaukee brewery. “We’re quite busy now, as busy as we have been in the last 30 years.”
MillerCoors has more than 1,500 employees in Milwaukee, and more than 830 of those workers are directly involved in production at its Miller Valley brewery.
While the Milwaukee facility is producing at capacity levels for much of the year, the company’s executives also have found ways to dramatically reduce the facility’s use of electricity and water. The brewery reduced electricity usage by 12 percent in 2009 and forecasts another 11-percent reduction this year. Water usage per barrel of beer made dropped 8 percent in 2009 and should drop another 4 percent this year.
“February was the lowest water usage (per barrel) month for this brewery,” Moschea said. “And there is a lot of brewing going on here now. That bodes well for our future water use.”
Despite its age, the Milwaukee facility has created a model of efficiency and sustainability for the company’s other breweries, which are more modern.
More beer, less water
Since 2005, the Milwaukee brewery has reduced the amount of water used in its cooling system by more than 50 percent by installing a new cooling tower, according to Michael Lozano, utilities unit manager at the brewery. Before the tower was fully operational, the brewery used about 40 million gallons to cool its power equipment. In 2009, the brewery used about 19 million gallons for that purpose.
“The cooling tower gave us huge (water) savings in the plant,” said Joan Guiliani, environmental health and safety specialist in the Milwaukee brewery.
Although the use of water has been cut dramatically, it is not giving MillerCoors a dramatic return on investment, Lozano said.
“We didn’t look at this one for a payback,” Lozano said. “It was more about sustainability. Not everything has to have a ROI.”
Some critics of a recent proposal to raise the city’s water rates say it could lead MillerCoors to shift production out of Milwaukee.
Moschea declined to discuss that speculation, but he did say the company keeps a very close eye on all of its expenses, including water rates.
“We watch our costs extremely closely, as an old manufacturer,” he said. “We have to or we’ll become (non)competitive. Our employees get that, and any logical business person understands that. From a lean and environmental perspective, we try and keep our costs competitive to capture our share of the volume in the Miller network.”
The brewery’s high volumes in 2009 and this year have helped it achieve higher rates of efficiency, Lozano said.
“It’s like with your refrigerator at home – the more you fill that fridge up, the more bang you get for your buck,” he said. “The more beer we make, the less energy we use per barrel.”
Lighting, cooling solutions
Like many manufacturers, MillerCoors has replaced its high-pressure sodium light fixtures with fluorescent ballasts and controls made by Manitowoc-based Orion Energy Systems Inc.
After the Milwaukee brewery began installing fluorescent lighting in 2007, the rest of the MillerCoors breweries began converting in 2008, Guiliani said.
“They’re all one step behind us – they will be installing their third phases later this year,” she said.
The Milwaukee MillerCoors brewery has achieved additional electricity savings by installing Orion’s Light Pipe systems in a storage warehouse. The Light Pipes collect and amplify sunlight for manufacturing and industrial buildings.
Additional electricity savings have come from continued improvement of the brewery’s cooling system. Since 2004, the company has spent more than $4.2 million to upgrade its ammonia cooling system, Lozano said.
“We had a lot of improper piping, which was preventing us from purging the system properly,” Lozano said. “It was very energy inefficient. Twenty percent of our electric bill is in refrigeration. And we shaved 3 million kilowatt hours off of our refrigeration by having tighter operations and buying the right type of machinery.”
The improvement in refrigeration is now saving the brewery about $250,000 per year in lower electricity costs.
“We’ve had huge energy savings, and it’s also given us safety improvements,” Giuliani said.
More improvements on tap
The brewery is planning two more major energy and water saving projects that could begin as early as this year. If both projects are implemented, the Milwaukee MillerCoors plant could see additional drops in water and electricity use.
The most significant of those plans is a water reclamation system that the brewery would affix to its pasteurizer, which could recapture about 500 million gallons of water every year. Lozano and Guiliani said the Milwaukee brewery hopes to begin work on the $4 million reclamation system later this year.
“Our ROI on this one will be about 10 years,” he said. “This isn’t about ROI. This is about saving water. We want to stop wasting 500 million gallons of water per year here.”
The Milwaukee MillerCoors plant currently uses about 4.5 barrels of water for every barrel of beer it produces. If the pasteurizer water reclamation system is installed, the brewery will use about 3.7 barrels of water for every barrel of beer it makes.
While the brewery has saved large amounts of electricity through modernizing its refrigeration equipment, it is now eyeing a more practical and sustainable approach – generating its own power with wind turbines.
Each horizontal wind turbine is expected to generate about 10 kilowatts per hour. However, that project still faces hurdles.
“We’re doing a wind study now with Focus on Energy (the state program that helps businesses and residents make facilities and homes more energy efficient),” Lozano said. “We’re going to need a (Focus) grant to do the project. We’re six months into a 12-month study to find out if we can get the grant. That’s where we stand now.”
Like its planned water reclamation program for its pasteurizer, the wind power will not generate a short-term ROI. However, it does fit into MillerCoors’ philosophy of making its facilities as environmentally friendly as possible, Lozano said.
“This is more of us doing our part,” he said. “Bringing green power to into the (Miller) Valley is close to the heart of MillerCoors.”
Some of the “green” improvements made at the Milwaukee MillerCoors brewery did not require new infrastructure, technology or large budgets to replace systems. By thinking creatively about recycling, the local brewery has met the MillerCoors recycling standards set for 2015, Guiliani said.
“The corporate goal was a 20-percent reduction (in materials sent to landfills) and the individual plants have to make their goals to help make the corporate goal,” she said. “Locally, we’ll do it in 2010.”
Materials such as scrap aluminum, glass and cardboard have been recycled for many years, Guiliani said. To boost its already large recycling program, the Milwaukee brewery looked at batteries, welding tips and the tiny metal clips used in grain and hops transportation.
“We’ve been picking out big things that we’ve sent to the landfill, and now we’re recycling them,” Guiliani said.
Some of the key waste streams from breweries are in spent grain and yeast – the largest byproducts of the brewing process. Milwaukee’s brewery has long-standing contracts to sell those materials to buyers who can use them.
“All of the spent grain goes to cattle feed. Cargill handles it, and they sell it to farmers,” Guiliani said. “The yeast is sold and goes into canned soups and other food products. This is a revenue stream for us. So are the glass, cardboard and aluminum. Each plant knows and tracks how much is generated every month.”
The Milwaukee brewery is not only focusing on “green” programs on the operations side. Last September, the brewery completed the installation of a green roof on top of one of its administrative buildings.
“Because this is an old manufacturing facility, we were intrigued that we could do the new and cool thing,” Moschea said. “This is the first green roof in the MillerCoors facilities. It’s an innovation thing.”
Instead of the traditional bed of gravel that covers most commercial buildings, most of the surface of the administrative building is now covered with four types of sedum, a low-growing plant that holds large quantities of water. Although the brewery has not been able to track the energy savings for the building, Guiliani said the green roof will generate savings in several areas.
“Studies show that there is a 25-percent reduction in heating and cooling costs for the floor that is below a green roof,” she said. “Our stormwater runoff is reduced, and contaminants are reduced. It will also extend the roof life.”
The Milwaukee brewery hoped to develop a second green roof on another of its buildings this year, but that project has been put on hold because of budget constraints.
“We’ll run it (up the flagpole) again in 2011 when capital projects come up,” Guiliani said. “The engineering is done. And our brewery in Trenton, Ohio, is looking at one too.”
The green roof is helping to spur additional green developments at the Milwaukee brewery, Moschea said.
“We do some of these things not because the ROI is splendid, but because they’re the right things to do,” he said. “If you can do it at a brewery that’s 155 years old, you can do it anywhere. It feeds other parts of the business. It lets us say, ‘Let’s go for it. Let’s try it.’ It reduces that fear of failure.”