Brewery's anaerobic digester system reduces loading to municipal wastewater treatment plant

Matt Brewing Company’s recently installed anaerobic digester system will remove 80 percent of the organics from its wastewater and generate up to 40 percent of its electricity
Brewery's anaerobic digester system reduces loading to municipal wastewater treatment plant
Closeup of Matt Brewing Company’s new wastewater equalization tank (left) and five digester tanks (right). (Photo courtesy of EMG International)

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Almost 125 years old, Matt Brewing Company of Utica, N.Y., is well-known for its distinctive-tasting Saranac brand of traditional craft beers. The company is also becoming known for its forward-thinking efforts to create renewable energy. 

Their biogas-to-power system is an idea that began several years ago with some research by CEO Nick Matt. The project, which will cost upwards of $5 million, is now in the startup phase. The equipment, designed and fabricated by EMG International, based in Media, Pa., has been installed. The company is making final adjustments, while the bacteria at the heart of this process are seeded and begin to do their work. 

Make it work

When the various vats and tanks in the brewery are cleaned, beer residue, yeast, residual wort from the brew kettles and other solids previously ended up in the Oneida County Water Pollution Control Plant. Rather than going to the municipal treatment plant, the wastewater now goes into an onsite 200,000-gallon equalization tank. The equalization tank normalizes the flow and preconditions the wastewater before entering the digester units. The wastewater is pumped from the equalization tank to five anaerobic digester tanks, located 50 to 150 feet away. The 40,000-gallon digester tanks can be operated in parallel or in a series. Organics in the digester tanks are treated by a mixture of anaerobic bacteria — including acidogenic and methanogenic organisms — that create biogas composed of methane gas and carbon dioxide. 

“What happens in the digester tanks is, on some levels, very parallel to what happens when we make beer,” explains Matt, “where you put in yeast and use the sugar in the beer to make alcohol and carbon dioxide. What we’re doing in the anaerobic digester tanks is using bacteria to eat up the leftover alcohol, sugars and other organics that are left in the water. In effect, we clean those out and then make methane gas.” 

The digester system will be operated by personnel at Matt Brewing, who are being trained by EMG International. EMG will also continue to oversee the operation. 

“The digester system is operated using a SCADA unit with remote-access capability,” says Manaf Farhan, president of EMG International. “EMG and Matt Brewing personnel will be able to continually observe and modify the system’s operation remotely.” 

Multiple benefits

“The net effect from all of this is that we estimate we are going to clean up our brewery’s wastewater by 80 percent,” states Matt. “We use an average of 150,000 gallons of water per day, so we are going to take a pretty big load off of the municipal sewer system.” 

The volume discharged will actually remain the same, but by removing 80 percent of the organic content, it will put less strain on this older community’s sewer system. 

“I think it’s a very progressive idea for Matt Brewing to install this system,” says Steve Devan, commissioner of the Oneida County Department of Water Quality and Water Pollution Control. “It will ultimately reduce the loading to our treatment plant and reduce the cost of wastewater disposal for Matt Brewing.” A discharge permit from the state Department of Environmental Conservation sets the treatment limits for the plant. It must treat a minimum of 48 mgd from June 1 through Oct. 31 and a minimum of 53 mgd from Nov. 1 through May 31.  

Because Matt Brewing is a significant industrial user, they had a discharge permit with the county that needed to be modified to include the digesters. 

Matt expects it will take a couple months before the digesters are producing enough gas to run their 400 kW generator at full capacity. “Then we are going to generate energy for 35 or 40 percent of the electrical operations here at the brewery,” he says. “So it’s kind of a double benefit: One, we clean up our wastewater and, two, out of that cleanup we are able to make energy for ourselves.” 

Matt Brewing has a history of green energy efforts. “We already recapture the carbon dioxide created when we make our beer and use it in making soft drinks and in the processing of beer, so it doesn’t go to waste,” Matt points out. “We recycle 98.4 percent of all components used in our production and packaging. And we sell 100 percent of the spent grains — the grains after the brew — to farmers for cattle feed. Everything that can be recycled is recycled. When we built a new warehouse in 2009, we put in geothermal wells. So we’re doing a lot of very good things.”

Securing funds

With that legacy influencing him, Matt was intrigued with the concept of anaerobic digesters. He spoke with experts at various universities and organizations specializing in green energy technology. “NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority) was the first one to offer financial support,” says Matt. 

“The total funding from NYSERDA will come to $1 million,” Matt states. “We will get $200,000 upfront when the system starts, and we’ll earn the other $800,000 over a three-year period when we are producing energy.” 

According to Tom Fiesinger, project manager, R&D-Manufacturing Technology Development and On-Site Power Applications Program at NYSERDA, this funding is an investment by the state of New York in renewable energy. 

“NYSERDA makes this funding available to help expand the production of clean energy in the state,” Fiesinger explains. “Matt Brewing submitted a proposal to the Anaerobic Digester Gas-to-Electricity Program administered by NYSERDA as part of the Customer-Sited Tier of the Renewable Portfolio Standard program. This was an open enrollment program, which means it was first come, first served.” 

Matt points out that his brewery will also qualify for a federal tax credit under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. “That’s going to be well over $1 million, which is going to help a great deal,” he says. 

In addition, the brewery is receiving help from the local utility. Plus the project is serving as a case study at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF). 

“This project is going to cost something over $5 million,” Matt states, “but we’re probably getting back well more than half of that in terms of grants and help we’re getting from various sources.” 

Green space enhances community

Another idea that spun out of the renewable energy project is a plan to create a garden in the area between the digesters and the brewery’s tour center. 

“We bought almost all the property on one side of the brewery, and we’re going to create a green space in that area,” Matt says. “A section of the city had buildings that were being used for auto repair, which is not the best use in a residential area, and we have taken all of those buildings down. This spring we’re going to start making a park there, and we hope to transform it into a beer garden. Our vision is to have trees, tables and terraces. It’s going to be a very nice space right in the middle of the city. It will help the whole area.” 

Matt is proud that the brewery, which has been in his family for four generations and operates out of an older facility, has been able to keep pace with today’s environmental standards. “In our family and in our business, there is a sense of responsibility to try and do our part to help,” he states. “We’ve decided to make ourselves as green as we can.”

The company has come a long way and its leaders still have more green ideas to pursue in the future. 

“People are pleased with what we’re doing,” Matt says. “They see us investing and realize our company cares. Our employees are very proud of this company. They are proud of the things we do and the accomplishments we have made. This renewable energy project is just one more achievement that people are going to feel very good about.” 


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