Brewing and Distilling Industry

Circular economy cases and their business models in brewing and distilling industries

Breweries and distilleries have a long tradition in the NPA region. Apart from very few larger companies most producers operate in small or micro-sized companies. This industry is particularly interesting because it is resource intensive and huge amounts of biomass are remaining after the production process.

Here you can learn more about the process, find the case studies and find out the challenges and opportunities of the by-product valorisation.

Brewery and distillery processes

Commonly, the brewing beer is a 9 stage-process which consists of milling, mashing, filtering, wort boiling, clarification, cooling, fermentation, conditioning, and packagingstag- es as shown asin figure below. Depending on type of beer, before packaging additional filtration and clarification might be needed. Malt, water, hops and yeast (highlighted in green) are input ingredients in the particular stage which result in the main by-products generated from the production process which are spent grain, spent hops and trub, and spent yeast. The brewers’ spent grain (BSG) is the main solid by-product generated in large quantities by the beer industry and is obtained after the mashing and filtration stage. It is estimated that worldwide, the annual output is around 30 million tons, about 200 tons of wet BSG (70–80% water content) being produced per 10,000 hl of beer (Farcas et al. 2017)1.


Spent grains are main by-product stream also from distilleries as mashing process is the same. Distillery process though has no brewing and after separating spend grains from wort, fermentation starts. Spent yeast stream is also formed here. After fermentation alcohol is distilled for several times and finally it is matured. Side stream of distilling process is called pot ale (1st distillation) and spent lees (further distillations). Distilling process is shown in figure below.

Breweries and distilleries are both energy and water intensive industries. Energy is needed for boiling liquids, cooling requires substantial amount of cooling water. Additionally, fermentation process produces CO2 which in most cases is emitted to air.


Case studies in NPA region, local affects and potential of by- product valorisation

From the documents below you can learn more about the regional characteristics of the breweries and distilleries in NPA regions of Finland, Sweden, Norway and Ireland. Re- gional differences, historical developments and existing collaborations affect the industries and the presented case studies give a representative illustration of the conditions.

Conclusions, challenges and possibilities

Traditionally, waste streams from the breweries and distilleries are used as animal feed or discarded. One of the main findings is however, that there is a strong interest in the brewery and beverage industry in the NPA region to create more value from their waste and by-products.

Due to the significant amount produced annually, environmental awareness and the recognition that BSG may represent a nutritionally valuable co-product, efforts should be focused on its valorisation. Although microbreweries may have a rather low production, and a consequent low waste amount, many of them have on-going attempts to find sustainable and circular solutions to support their businesses.
Figure below is the schematic representation of the routes for potential valorisation of waste and byproducts from breweries. The waste and by-products are highlighted in grey and potential valorised products are highlighted in green. The processes which the waste or by-products must undertake to be valorised are highlighted in light blue.

Next figure is the schematic representation of the potential valorisation of waste and by-products from whisky production. Again, the waste and by-products are highlighted in grey, potential products are highlighted in green. The processes which the waste or by-products must undertake to be valorised are highlighted in light blue.



Referring further to the figures above, in the NPA region some of the valorisation processes are currently being implemented, like for biogas or animal feed production, however, they are not providing added value. In best case they are cost neutral as waste handling costs are spared.
Aggregated challenges and opportunities for valorisation of by-products and waste from alcoholic beverage production in the NPA areas of Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Ireland are summarised in the following table.


  • Logistics: distance, small volumes, shelf life
  • Exiting solutions are “easy way out”, more value
    adding solutions need more effort in creating value chain and/or investments into new technology
  • Not enough knowledge and time to gain it as it is not the main business of beverage producer
  • Regulations/ restrictions


  • Underutilized waste streams
  • Collaboration with new actors
  • Positive effect on cost or revenue
  • CO2 and energy recovery

Logistics is the common challenge, that has been highlighted. The companies interviewed and presented in this report are in the NPA areas with rather low production waste volumes, which are located further away from the central part of country or/and far from other breweries which could be possible collaborators in creating more value from the production wastes and by-products. Also an additional concern is the shelf life of by-products as they mould in a short if no presentation means are taken into consideration, e.g. drying or freezing. Preservation of by-products though might increase costs of by-products.

Another common challenge is that the most companies don’t focus on new solutions, but rather rely on existing solutions as they are “the easy way out” to handle production waste. The most common solution- animal feed in local farms does not require additional effort or investment. The companies would benefit from getting better support from government or local administration agencies in exploring other innovative solutions to address such issues. Lastly, a significant common challenge is the legal restrictions which unfortunately do not support the development of businesses towards implementing more circular philosophy in their business models.

Despite the mentioned challenges several opportunities were also identified. A lot of companies have highlighted that they are aware of their underutilized waste streams. They are very open for further discussions and looking into opportunities to transfer their current business models into circular business models, thus generate positive effect on economy, society, and environment. Especially new collaborations can lead to new circular business models. Public business support and industry branch organizations can play an important role in this establishment.

Map of main by-products from beer and whisky industries