Winnipeg gets a little greener

Breweries, U of W aim for more sustainable operation

Head of brewery operations Rob McWhinney with the new CiCi carbon-recapture system at Little Brown Jug Brewery

Keeley Braunstein-Black

Craft-beer production uses and creates a lot of carbon dioxide (CO2), but a new carbon-recapture system could help local breweries reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions.

Little Brown Jug (LBJ) is the second craft brewery in Canada to install CiCi, a carbon recapture system from Earthly Labs in Austin, Texas. Blindman Brewing in Lacombe, Alta. started recapturing its CO2 in 2021.

The $150,000 system will help LBJ decrease its environmental impact and cut down on operation costs.

“There’s something really appealing about trying to turn our waste into something usable,” Rob McWhinney, head of LBJ brewery operations, says. “It’s a nice way for us to be a little bit more sustainable as a company, both in cost and actual emissions.”

LBJ uses between 2,000 and 5,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide each month. They hope to save a quarter to a third of that based on the initial results since CiCi was first used in mid-September.

The brewery currently trucks the liquid carbon in from Brandon or from Alberta if there are issues in local production, although LBJ would like to become less dependent on these sources.

“We’re really susceptible to any disruptions,” McWhinney says. “Having an on-site source of CO2 is also really appealing for us, because we’re a little bit more insulated. We have a little bit more of a backup if anything goes wrong.”

CiCi in brewing action

Carbon is used in every step of beer production. It’s used to carbonate and keep the alcohol fresh. During fermentation, yeast also converts sugars into the gas.

Typically, breweries dump the excess. LBJ will now be able to divert between 20 and 30 per cent of its carbon used during fermentation.

With CiCi, carbon dioxide is fed through the instrument, and sensors detect when the CO2 level is high enough and the oxygen level is low enough. It then filters the carbon through a trap to remove any organic material used in fermentation, followed by a drying agent to extract water.

Finally, the purified CO2 moves through a compressor and chiller to liquify it so it can be stored and reused.

Not all organic impurities can be removed, so the CO2 doesn’t come out completely flavourless, limiting what it can be used for.

LBJ accessed money from the Conservation and Climate Change Fund and plans to share knowledge about CiCi with other local breweries.

“Climate change is an existential threat, and we all need to work together to reduce Manitoba’s carbon emissions and create a more sustainable future,” Tracy Schmidt, the minister for the environment and climate change, says in an email statement.

McWhinney says they want to show how the system works and why it might be a good fit for other craft-beer brewers. They will be showcasing the new tech at an upcoming open house.

Companies and institutions set examples for others

While small projects tackling greenhouse-gas emissions may not have large impacts, Dr. Ryan Bullock says they provide valuable examples of what can be done.

Bullock is a professor of environmental studies and sciences at the University of Winnipeg (U of W). He says companies like LBJ and institutions like the U of W that choose environmentally friendly practices can influence others in the city.

Many people are disconnected from how they use natural resources and get caught up in juggling everything going on in their lives.

“You’re drawing on ecosystems that you are largely removed from, although you’re connected to them,” Bullock says. “It’s hard for the day-to-day citizen who’s busily working along through their life to recognize what seem to be faraway impacts, if they recognize a connection at all.”

At the U of W, the Campus Sustainability Office collaborates with students, faculty and staff to meet local and global responsibilities to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

One of the office’s 2017 Sustainability Strategy’s goals was to exceed Canada’s commitments following the Paris Accord, an international treaty to tackle climate change. The agreement came into effect in November 2016.

“Universities produce knowledge and the ideas that move society forward. Universities produce the leaders of tomorrow,” Joseph Wasylycia-Leis, the campus sustainability coordinator, says. “That is an opportunity for us to send people out into the world from our institution with a deeper understanding of sustainability.”

As a large institution, the U of W has a responsibility to account for and reduce their environmental footprint, Wasylycia-Leis says. He mentions that they also have a responsibility to educate students about ways to live more sustainably.

Many resources Winnipeggers rely on come from outside city limits, like drinking water that flows 137 km through a pipeline from Shoal Lake.

“There’s a tendency to think about natural resources and Indigenous issues as things that are kind of outside the city,” Bullock says. “Cities are built on resources taken from areas typically beyond their limits. These resources historically were stolen from other peoples’ territories.”

The future of brewing and climate action

Only a few craft-beer breweries existed a decade ago. Fort Garry Brewing became the province’s first microbrewery in 1995. Now, 33 breweries are active in Manitoba.

Organizations like LBJ are trying to lead the brewery industry and make environmentally practices the norm, Bullock says.

As conversations about the climate crisis continue, he says it’s time to ask the next generation what the solution should look like.

“It’s not just saying, ‘Oh, we need to listen to our young people.’ It’s more than that,” Bullock says. “They are telling us we need to change, and they are begging for change and fighting for it.”

He believes the majority of questions and answers around climate action should focus on youth.

“They need to be supported, listened to, encouraged, and we need to use them as champions more, as well, even though they can’t drink Little Brown Jug beer until they’re 18,” Bullock says.

“That’s where most of the change is going to come from.”

LBJ is holding an open house in the evening of Nov. 21. Anyone can stop by and check out the equipment. Details are available at @littlebrownjugbrewing on Facebook and Instagram and @lbjbrewing on Twitter.

Published in Volume 78, Number 10 of The Uniter (November 16, 2023)

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