The origins of beer go back at least as far as 7,000 years ago, ranking it as one of the oldest beverages produced in civilization. It may also prove to be among the most adaptable. Today's brewers are coming up against existential challenges related to global warming, land use and water resources. In the latest development, global beer giant AB InBev provides a demonstration of how modern technology can shepherd the art of brewing into a more sustainable model.
In conventional brewing, gas bubbles are created while the wort is boiled, and those bubbles help carry off unwanted flavors.
If you've ever made beer at home, you'll instantly recognize that the process involves copious amounts of time, fuel and water.
AB InBev found a lower-impact workaround after a good four years of testing:
The new method involves heating the brew to below boiling point and then blowing nitrogen or CO2 into the tank to create bubbles without changing the taste. The company claims that because the beer is brewed at a lower temperature in the early phase, it can also stay fresh for longer.
According to Guardian reporter Daniel Boffey, AB InBev plans to roll out the process globally, a process that could take about 10 years.
Once fully implemented, the company anticipates that it will cut its global carbon emissions overall by a good 5%.
But, that's not what makes this innovation especially interesting.
In that regard, AB InBev is reflecting a sustainability trend in which companies are investing in clean tech R&D, acquiring patents, and then sharing their innovations.
In the auto industry, for example, Honda and GM announced a plan for sharing fuel cell technology patents. Elon Musk's Tesla has essentially open-sourced its patented technology for battery electric vehicles, and Toyota has made a similar move with its hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles.
The motive for sharing clean tech is especially clear in the food and beverage industries. If beer making is to be around for another 7,000 years, then the industry as a whole will need to cut its carbon footprint and conserve water resources.
Indirect bottom line considerations also come into play. Last year The Guardian noted that the tension between craft brewers and global giants has been growing. By taking on R&D expenses and sharing innovations, AB InBev creates a goodwill gesture that could help deflect criticism coming from smaller breweries and their supporters (do follow the link for more detail).
By helping to sustain smaller breweries, AB InBev is also keeping an eye out for promising new trends to adopt, and new brands to acquire.
AB InBev is already competing with other top beer makers to snap up craft labels, and they could gain an important inside edge by sharing new processes with smaller breweries.
The company has already established a firm background in new technology that conserves resources and lowers carbon emissions, and it just stepped up its efforts with the launch of a new open-source initiative called the 100+ Innovation Accelerator.
The details are still being hammered out, but it appears that the company is aiming for global impact. Here's the mission:
The 100+ Sustainability Accelerator will aim to solve 100+ challenges by 2025. Through the accelerator, we will support promising ideas and technologies that are in line with our sustainability goals, reflecting our vision of building a company to last for the next 100 years and beyond. Challenges will be open to everyone - scientists, technologists and budding entrepreneurs around the world – and solutions will be open for everyone.
The company plans to announce the first challenge in June, so get ready.
Photo (cropped): via Wicked Weed.
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.