Up until the last week I was unsure of what angle I would be focusing on throughout my culminating research project. I knew and understood that I was to find some way of connecting my passion for beer and brewing with my interest in agricultural improvement, but I was unsure how. At first I thought perhaps I would be able to focus on improvements in brewing technology and equipment. New advances in High-Efficiency Brewing (HIB) are allowing brewers to dramatically reduce energy inputs and wastewater recycling and treatment technologies are allowing for less damaging effluent from industrial breweries. As I have become more interested in life cycle analysis (LCA) and the concept of the circular economy my understanding of how raw materials are grown, processed and utilized has changed dramatically. For example, during previous brewery employment I was able to see first hand how much water can be used (and subsequently wasted) during the processing stages. However, this pales in comparison to the amount of water used in growing and transporting the raw materials used in brewing (barley, hops, wheat, maize etc.). It is estimated that 98% of the total water used in production of beer (this includes the total water inputs from agriculture, transport, processing, brewing, distribution, packaging and waste recycling) occurs before the barley reaches the brewery.
Taking this reality into account, my research this summer (collaboratively through NUI Galway and AB-Inbev) will focus upon water footprints related to barley and brewing and examining their applications for developing and promoting sustainable agricultural and business practices on a global scale. I will provide updates on my findings as I am able- given time constraints and the confidential nature of some of the work I will be doing. Links to some preliminary reading are provided below, I hope you join me in my journey of research and exploration!
Lots of good basic and detailed information here about the methodologies involved with water foot-printing and site/area specific studies.
This is a good brief example of how water use globally affects the economies of individual nations or regions and the interplay between climate, commodities and economies.
Very accessible article from The Guardian giving some background information and statistics on water-to-beer ratio of several Macro beer companies and water use efficiency scenarios.