Distilleries Are Innovating to Save Water in Drought-Stricken Areas
November 22, 2021
From repurposing wastewater for fisheries to implementing closed-loop recycling systems, water-guzzling U.S. distilleries are getting creative to conserve water.
Partnerships Turn Wastewater Into a Resource
Distillery wastewater, called stillage, has a low pH, high salinity, and a high concentration of nitrogen, phosphorus, and other organic materials. When dumped in rivers and streams, it can inhibit photosynthesis and reduce the oxygen in water, which kills aquatic plants and animals. A study by researchers in Poland notes that some countries allow distilleries to thicken wastewater and spread it over fields like a fertilizer, but the nitrogen content is so high that it can end up being a soil pollutant.
For this reason, most distillers pay to have it dumped or shipped off to be disposed of elsewhere. Some, however, are experimenting with ways to turn wastewater into a resource.
Five & 20 in Westfield, New York, partnered with TimberFish Technologies to use wastewater for a fishery. Rather than paying to dispose of stillage, Five & 20 uses it as part of a sustainable side business that creates its own income. The nitrogen- and phosphorus-rich wastewater is pumped to tanks to feed microbes. The microbes clean the water and serve as food for small invertebrates, which in turn are eaten by fish. The pilot system at Five & 20 has grown rainbow trout, channel catfish, yellow perch, largemouth bass, and freshwater shrimp.
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