The renewable energy revolution just got a whole lot more fun. The Beam Suntory company has announced that it’s going to be increasing its production of Kentucky bourbon using the power of renewable gas. In order to meet the growing demand for whiskey, Jim Beam is going to increase capacity by a whopping 50% at its Booker Noe distillery in Boston, Kentucky while also reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by the same percentage. A recent press release from Jim Beam and its Japanese parent company Suntory announced a $400 million investment in a renewable biogas system. “This expansion will help ensure we meet future demand for our iconic bourbon in a sustainable way that supports the environment and the local community that has helped build and support Jim Beam,” CEO Albert Baladi said.
Beam Suntory is building its renewable biogas facility 36 miles south of Louisville, Kentucky. The facility, which will be built across the street from the Booker Noe distillery, will use otherwise wasted byproduct (known as ‘spent stillage’) from the whiskey-making process to be converted into fuel through the use of “digesters.” The result is a so-called ‘renewable natural gas’ that will be piped right back into the distillery in a sustainable closed-loop system. The digesters will also produce a high-quality, low-cost fertilizer which Beam Suntory says they will make available to local farmers, “thereby supporting sustainable and regenerative agricultural practices.”
Renewable natural gas is an industry term for a biogas that has been upgraded to be used in place of fossil fuels. It’s often seen as a “bridging fuel” which diverts methane and carbon emissions by making use of waste products, allowing entities like Beam Suntory to lower their carbon footprint without totally revamping their infrastructure. As such, biofuels are a lower-emissions stepping stone between our current carbon-based economy and a future energy landscape that won’t revolve around fuels that emit any greenhouse gasses whatsoever. Biomethanes and biogases such as the ‘renewable natural gas’ to be produced for Jim Beam have much lower carbon dioxide and methane emissions than standard natural gas, but their emissions are not null – in fact, they are underestimated.
While biogas and biomethane are not perfect, they are a huge step in the right direction and will create a considerable positive impact on Jim Beam’s ecological footprint – all while ramping up production of the good stuff. The biogas-fuelled expansion project is supposed to be completed by 2024. By then, Suntory Bean says that the Booker Noe distillery will be 65% renewable natural gas-powered. What’s more, the project is expected to be a considerable job creator in the region.
As natural gas prices soar around the world, the move makes good economic sense, and will hopefully set a precedent in Kentucky, where 95% of the world’s bourbon is made. Lowering production costs is a good goal in any environment, but it’s especially attractive now when demand for both natural gas and alcohol is soaring. In the first half of 2022, Beam Suntory’s global net sales grew by 13% according to company reports.
Alcohol consumption climbed to new heights during the pandemic, ushering in a “new golden age” for the booze industry, as well as some very worrying trends for the health sector and addiction specialists. And alcohol demand is expected to keep climbing. A market analysis report from Grand View Research finds that the “global alcoholic drinks market size was valued at USD 1,448.2 billion in 2021 and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.3% from 2022 to 2028.” For those of us who enjoy a responsible nip now and then, the whiskey-fuelled renewable revolution does seem like a golden age, indeed.
By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com
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