Can GE help Anheuser-Busch InBev be a better brewer? (Water Wednesday)

Partnership focused on Chinese operations should result in technologies for energy management, energy generation and waste-to-value conversion.

Contributor’s Note: This is an ongoing column in water sustainability, consumption and management issues. The rationale is simple: water is a more urgent priority for corporate social responsibility programs and becoming more so every day.

The world’s largest brewer, Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev), has been aggressive in its water conservation aspirations given the critical nature of this resource to it ongoing survival. In 2010, it managed a 6 percent reduction (on a per hectoliter basis) in the amount of water it takes to produce its beers and beverages. That is roughly the equivalent of the water it would take to fill 16,000 Olympic swimming pools ( "Anheuser-Busch's beer gets greener" ).

Now, the brewer has engaged the help of GE to help create technologies that will drive energy efficiency and water savings -- with a specific focus on its operations in China. The partnership is intended to support AB InBev's objective to reduce its water to beer ratio to 3.5 by 2012 even as it embraces alternative energy sources, such as natural gas and biogas.

The deal calls for the two companies to create an "Innovation Team" that will include AB InBev and GE engineering resources. The team will identify processes and technologies that can be improved within the brewer's manufacturing operations. Then it will use GE technology resources to pilot solutions to wasteful system, with the successes ultimately rolled out to new and existing plants across China.

The technologies developed by the two companies will include:

  • Energy management systems that will provide better visibility into both energy and water waste
  • Energy generation systems that will create combined heat and power using biogas and natural gas
  • Waste-to-value solutions that will better use the water and other byproducts left at the end of the manufacturing process

Patrick Regan, global account executive, GE Food and Beverage Solutions, commented about the relationship via email:

"This initiative represents a new approach to food and beverage sector operations where we look at challenges such as energy use, water consumption and carbon footprint on an enterprise level. Rather than dealing with these challenges through a singular product or service approach, we're looking at the whole system, end-to-end, bringing solutions designed for food and beverage industry into play, creating operational efficiences that have the potential to create a legitimate competitive advantage for our partners."

Evidence exists that water conservation can be a very local issues. Still, using the same fundamental processes for manufacturing can help create a level playing field for efficiency across all of AB InBev's Chinese operations that it can build on, depending on the region. It should be interesting to see how quickly the two companies can put its plan into action.

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