Why green vapor is a hot issue for business

Why green vapor is a hot issue for business

Colorado-based New Belgium Brewing can trace its roots to 1988 and a cycling trip through Belgium.

That experience inspired co-founders Kim Jordan and Jeff Lebesch to bring Belgian brewing techniques back to their hometown.

Three years later and they both sold Fat Tire, one of their first beers at a local festival, and they now have over a dozen beers in production.

But while they’ve spent 30 years creating unique flavors for the US market, they have at least one thing in common with all brewers – the use of steam.

Steam is used to clean their brewing equipment, as well as being an important part of the brewing process.

A large, conical kettle is used to boil the wort – the liquid extracted from the early stages of brewing mash barley – to produce steam.

This boiling process helps the brewer remove unwanted flavors in the beer, before the wort is transferred to a vessel to ferment with yeast, producing beer.

Some of the steam produced by the kettle is captured by a heat exchanger, which allows the brewer to use this waste heat in the next brewing batch.

The driving force behind the industrial revolution, steam remains essential to production processes across various industries.

In addition to its frequent use in the food and beverage industry, steam is also used for sterilization by pharmaceutical companies, and to heat various buildings such as hospitals.

But steam is still generated primarily using boilers that run on fossil fuels, giving it a large carbon footprint.

Fossil fuels made up 73% of industrial energy use in the US in 2018, with 40% of this fossil fuel used to heat boilers that produce steam.

To reduce it, one option is to switch to electricity. Assuming electricity is generated from sustainable sources, the carbon footprint is reduced.

But the use of electricity has its drawbacks.

“The biggest challenge is cost, which is likely to limit customer adoption,” says Maurizio Preziosa, of UK-based engineering firm Spirax Group.

While cost may be an issue, the switch is relatively easy.

Mr. Preziosa says that his firm’s technology can usually fit into existing systems.

“Customers can continue to use their entire existing steam infrastructure,” explained Mr. Preziosa.

This has the added benefit of reducing downtime, a potential barrier to adoption for companies that rely on tightly calibrated production processes.

US-based AtmosZero has a different approach to creating vapor. Their boiler is a heat pump, which extracts heat from the air and turns it into high-temperature steam.

It works by circulating a low boiling point coolant through a closed loop, capturing heat from the air.

The slightly heated refrigerant is compressed, raising it to a temperature high enough to boil water.

The heat exchanger then transfers that heat from the refrigerant, to the water to make steam.

A big advantage of this approach is that it reduces operating costs.

The company’s chief executive, Addison Stark estimates that their heat pump technology could save the company hundreds of thousands of dollars compared to current options.

“As a heat pump based system, we are much more efficient than current boilers – we create approximately two units of heat output for one unit of energy input, dramatically reducing operating costs,” explained Mr Stark.

AtmosZero is still in its infancy, with more development work needed. The goal is to build a manufacturing plant and begin shipping boiler systems in early 2026.

Mr Stark is confident the system will work at the scale required by the industry. “We’re mass-produced and easy to use.”

Makers of green vaping equipment see demand increasing in the coming years.

“End-user expectations are changing,” explains Spirax Group’s Maurizio Preziosa.

“They want to buy from companies that operate sustainably by reducing their impact on people and the planet, and this, along with regulatory pressure, is driving demand from our customers who serve those consumers,” he said.

Back in Colorado, preparations are underway at New Belgium Brewing where AtmosZero will convert one of the brewery’s combustion boilers for their heat pump system.

This is the next step in the sustainability journey the company has been on since the early days of selling their beer at local festivals.

In addition to installing solar panels and creating electricity from waste water, Fat Tire, one of their first beers, became America’s first certified carbon neutral beer in August 2020.

This is part of the company’s wider ambition to become completely carbon neutral by 2030.

Changing the way they use vaping may be a major step towards this goal.

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