Water is the most important ingredient in beer, and the warming climate[1] is placing increasing pressure on Australian water resources. To improve resilience, Lion is  committed to exploring innovative ways to improve water management within the communities that we operate.

Water management is particularly paramount in Queensland, where in 2009 Lion commissioned a water recycling plant for its Castlemaine Perkins brewery – setting out to halve the water used in brewing our classic brand, XXXX Gold. A decade on, the brewery is approaching world class standards in water management and is continually pushing the boundaries of conservation.

The two main uses for water in brewing are water used in making the beer itself – plus water used in the brewing process (around 40-50% of mains water), which is used in non-product related processes, such as cleaning, cooling and pasteurising. Back in 2009, Lion partnered with the Queensland Government to install a reverse osmosis plant, to recover waste water and minimise our reliance on mains-fed town water.

The science: Recovering biogas from beer

Castlemaine Utilities and Services leader, Tri Tran, manages the system, and explains the science behind the plant:

“Firstly, all the waste water from the entire site – whether it is waste from brewing, packaging or cleaning, is captured in a collection pit – known as the trade waste sump. Much of this waste water includes useful organic compounds, like yeasts, beer and other brewing products which – when mixed in a large balance tank are then digested by bacteria in an internal circulation tank, creating biogas. This biogas is then used as a fuel to offset some of the natural gas usage in our steam boilers. Steam generated by the boilers is supplied across the site as an energy source for heating, cleaning equipment, pasteurisers and boiling the wort kettle.”

The science: Purification by reverse osmosis

“Next, in the aerobic digester, fresh air is bubbled through – which helps the aerobic bacteria to break down leftover components in the waste water. It then goes through various filtration stages, before reaching the final reverse osmosis machines, where it is pushed – by high pressure – through tiny membranes that are only small enough for water molecules to squeeze through.

Following reverse osmosis, the waste water is now cleaner than rainwater. It then goes through further sterilisation (including using UV light and chlorine treatment), before it’s ready to store in a two million litre capacity tank. None of the recycled water is used in beer, but it is reused in cooling towers, boilers and for cleaning.”

The numbers for the plant speak volumes. In 2018, the plant generated more than 220 million litres, that’s the equivalent of 88 Olympic-sized swimming pools saved. The team has consistently broken their own records – recycling up to 6.8 million litres per week in 2018, during high volume periods of production. Vitally, the plant enables XXXX Gold to be produced at a ratio of 2.8 litres of water for every litre of beer produced –  which is approaching world leading levels of water efficiency.

Irene Bell, Castlemaine’s Brewery Director said:

“Our utilities team is constantly pushing the boundaries of water recycling, through operational improvements and ongoing enhancements to the reverse osmosis plant. For us, it’s about constantly looking for the next step change. We’re confident we will continue to boost the efficiency of Castlemaine in Queensland, as well as providing best practice that our other breweries across Australia can also apply to increase their own resilience to change.”

[1] https://www.csiro.au/en/Research/OandA/Areas/Assessing-our-climate/State-of-the-Climate-2018/Australias-changing-climate