Gas the key to fledging micro-brewing industry

Craft brewing has taken off in Australia over the past five years. Driven by consumer demand for something a little different outside the main brands. These usually one- or two-person bands are making inroads into traditional markets right across
the country.

From Perth to Sydney, Adelaide to Brisbane, micro-breweries aren’t just putting down roots in the main cities, regional Australia is getting its fair share of beer aficionados, too. Some craft breweries are driven by wanting to be in an industry they love, others believe their unique blend of hops, barley, yeast and malt offer an exquisite taste to a discerning public, while yet others are hoping one of the big breweries will buy them out.

According to a 2018 report by IBIS World, the craft brewery market in Australia is worth about $520 million and is growing at a rate of about six per cent a year. Not only are the brewers themselves excited about the market’s potential, but those providing products and services can also see that the sector offers lucrative opportunities.

As well as the four basic ingredients, there are peripheral – but just as important – constituents that need to be taken into consideration, such as packaging, distribution and gases.

READ MORE: Putting wine on ice – gas’s role in winemaking

Gases are the unseen heroes of a good brew, something that Air Liquide’s Western Australian sales representative, Gavin Lee, is all too aware of. Having a background working at brewing giant Lion, has helped Lee gain momentum in supplying a variety of gases to the large number of micro-breweries popping up on the west coast. And it’s only going to get bigger, according to Lee.

“The micro brewing industry in Western Australia is going gangbusters at the moment,” he said. “There are more than 60 micro-breweries in Western Australia – ranging from Exmouth down to Albany. The majority are in the Perth area.”

Like wine-making, gas plays an important role, from the brewing of the amber fluid, through to it being dispensed at the tap. Oxygen is both the friend and enemy of the brewer. The only time it is necessary is when there is the oxygenation of the wort, which is the liquid extracted from the mashing process that occurs during the brewing of beer. Wort contains the sugars that will be fermented by the brewing yeast to produce alcohol.
“Oxygen and light are the two things brewers don’t like. Dissolved oxygen in beer ruins the taste and flavour,” said Lee.

If gas was a workhorse its name would be carbon dioxide (CO2). It is used extensively to move beer around from one vessel to another, as well as during the bottling process. It has a multitude of uses, and because it is an inert gas it has no effect on the end product. Nitrogen can also be used but CO2 is the preferred option among most brewmasters. CO2 is mainly used in the carbonation process, giving the beer its fizz at the point of bottling, canning or kegging.

“When using it in the bottling process there is tank inerting,” said Lee. “Currently, if the brewer has the brew in the tank and there is a bit of head space in that vessel, they can pump CO2 on top of that beer so it blankets the surface, and that provides a protective layer for the beer, or they can use nitrogen.”

And when it comes to setting up the delivery mechanisms for the gases, Air Liquide has that covered, too. There are two main options.

“Typically we like to use copper piping because it won’t leak and it won’t corrode and can last for a very long time,” said Lee. “Or you can use food-grade nylon, which is a cheaper option, but over time it does have a tendency to spring a leak because it is under pressure.
“We have engineers and an installation team that are very experienced. We swapped out a vessel, down at Little Creatures in Freemantle, which had been there for the past 18 years.
“We swapped out to a 10-tonne vessel and within a couple of hours they were back in full operation without any down time.”

Another growing part of the company’s business is providing mixed gases for the dispensing of beverages in hotels and pubs throughout the state.

“It is often a mixed combination of CO2 and nitrogen,” said Lee. “It is the gas that pumps the beer through to the glass. As with the brewing process, it is inert so doesn’t affect the quality or the taste of the beer.”

Another reason Lee believes Air Liquide is making inroads into the market is that it supports the industry in other ways other than just providing gases.

“Air Liquide supports WABA – the Western Australian Brewing Association,” he said. “We try and support a lot of the brewers who start a business. Although some would argue gas is a small part of the process, it is a very important part. We offer cost-effective safe solutions and are able to provide the right product, at the right time and the right price,” he said.

“We’ve got fantastic aftersales service and logistics solutions to provide any type of gas delivery – whether it be in cylinders, skid tanks, mini-bulk or bulk vessels. All ALIGAL products we supply to breweries and wineries are of food-grade quality and our CO2 is FSSC 22000-certified, guaranteeing maximum quality and food safety.”

Putting wine on ice – gas’s role in winemaking

The main hero and villain in the wine-making process is oxygen. Generally, the use of various gases in wine production is necessary to negate the destructive nature of oxygen. Gavin Hall, Air Liquide’s sales representative for food and wine in South Australia, said this is where his company’s expertise comes to the fore.

“The management of oxygen in all the wine making processes is paramount to the industry,” he said. “This is because oxygen is what defines the quality of the wine and its organoleptic properties.”

Throughout the production process, the wine itself is subject to various oxidation processes. A certain degree of oxidation is necessary, but direct contact with oxygen has a detrimental effect on the quality of the final product. It is possible to control how oxygen interacts with the wine by using a variety of different gases. All wineries have to use gases to control the intake of oxygen. These gases include nitrogen, carbon dioxide (CO2) argon and sulphur dioxide.

Hall said there are eight stages in which gases are involved in the processing of wine.

Stage 1
The first stage is during the harvesting and transport of grapes from the field to vineyard/winery. In this stage, the crushed grapes start getting in contact with oxygen in the air. It is important to negate that contact but it is difficult to achieve, which is why there is a need to lower the temperature in order to slow down the oxidation process, said Hall.
“As soon as the grape juice comes in contact with oxygen, the fermentation starts, as does the oxidation process. What you want to do is lower the temperature of the grapes,” said Hall. “Because the lower the temperature the slower the oxidation process.”

In this stage CO2 is mainly used in the form of dry ice. “In Australia, compared to Europe, most wineries don’t use this cooling process due to the initial phase, they usually try to process the grapes as soon as possible,” said Hall.

Stage 2
Once the grapes are crushed, the pressing process allows for the production of clarified juice, which is transferred to different tanks to ferment. Winemakers need to displace the air from empty vessels into empty pipes before transferring the wine to ensure there is no residual oxygen. This is called purging.

“When you need to purge the tank,” said Hall, “you utilise an inert gas to flush out the remaining liquid or air under a certain pressure.”

Nitrogen is mainly used in this stage. The process of purging is done by building slight overpressure with nitrogen in the tank, or in the pipeline. The wine maker is stopping the oxygen from coming in contact with the grape juice that has just been crushed out of the grapes.

“You are basically displacing the oxygen from the air that has already come in contact with the juice,” said Hall. “You’re using nitrogen under pressure to purge and transfer juice within the tanks.”

Stage 3
Then comes what is called tank inerting. This encompasses blanketing the surface of the wine tank after the juice has been collected.

“You are blanketing the surface with a protective layer of gas during the storage, or when you are emptying the tank,” said Hall. “By doing this to the tank, you prevent oxidation.”
The gas used can be nitrogen, CO2, or a mixture of the two. Vintners can also use argon, but that can be a little more expensive. In Australia, tank inerting is very important, and it is common to do it with dry ice.

“Using dry ice is preferred by winemakers because it’s practical, and they can actually see it and it’s a bit cheaper,” said Hall.

“You scoop it into the wine tank. Because CO2 is heavier than air, it creates a layer at the bottom of the tank blanketing the wine, thus preventing oxygen contact.”

Stage 4
Winemakers are constantly measuring the dissolved oxygen in the wine. Depending on the wine being made, some vintners do what is called deoxygenation which consists of stripping out the excess oxygen that is dissolved in the wine.
“For this process you would use nitrogen,” said Hall. “By injecting nitrogen in the form of tiny bubbles into the wine, you are forcing the dissolved oxygen into the gas phase, and then the gas is vented out of the tank.”

Depending on the type of wine that is made, vintners need a certain amount of dissolved oxygen. It is one of the key criteria to produce quality wine.

Step 5
The next step, also using nitrogen, consists of mixing or homogenising. Nitrogen is bubbled at the bottom of the tank. When the bubbles raise to the surface, they are mixing the various products together.

“That is why it is called mixing,” said Hall. “This comes into effect when wine makers need to homogenise the wine they are making. It avoids oxygen pick up.”

Bubbling nitrogen is also used during must lifting process but this time during the fermentation. This process brings up all the dense solids that have accumulated at the bottom of the tank.

The benefit of must lifting using gas is that it saves times.

Step 6
Bottle inerting is the next step. This means that when the wine is being bottled, gas is already being used. Like most of the other steps, it is all about minimising the amount of oxygen in the wine.

For this step, it is possible to use CO2 or nitrogen, or a mixture of both. Every bottling line in a winery has filling machines equipped with gas injection. The decision on what type of gas is to be used depends on the type of wine that is being made.

“Most winemakers use nitrogen to apply counter pressure in the bottles to purge the oxygen before filling them with wine,” said Hall. “The oxygen is eliminated inside the bottle, then you fill them with wine.”

The second step in the bottling line is the headspace of the bottle. After the bottle has been filled, there is a gas injection point, which is filling up the headspace of the bottle after the wine has been put into the bottle.

Step 7
Depending on the wine and oxygen level of the tank, some winemakers might use oxygen in the different steps of the winemaking process. This is called oxygen enrichment.
“The winemaker reintroduces oxygen to help maintain the yeast activity in the wine to minimise the risk of stuck fermentation and the production of undesirable sulphides,” said Hall. “Oxygen is not always bad in the winemaking process. This is a controlled situation. You’re not putting wine in contact with air, you’re injecting oxygen in micro doses. The yeast works on oxygen. The simple process of wine making is that you have the sugars in the grapes and then the sugars become alcohol, or ethanol in this case. This process is using oxygen to transform the sugars into ethanol. What you don’t want to do, is put in too much oxygen. Then the alcohol becomes oxidised. You need to control the amount of oxygen you put in the wine.”

Step 8
In the case of still wines, the CO2 level is usually adjusted before bottling, according to Hall. Winemakers can measure the level of CO2 that is dissolved in the wine and bubble nitrogen if it is too high or dissolve CO2 if it is too low. In the case of sparkling, this adjustment is brought about to carbonisation of the wine.

“Now you have the wine that is ready,” said Hall. “Oxygen is the one that creates the magic. It is the management of oxygen that is important and you need it to be controlled at all steps of the process. It is a critical thing for winemakers. An excess of oxygen is bad. You want to avoid direct contact with air.”

If winemakers are thinking of using the gas suite offered by Air Liquide, they come in three different modalities.

For small wineries they come in gas cylinders. For medium- to large-sized installations, the gases are supplied in bulk via big tanks. For big wineries, Air Liquide can install and operate a nitrogen generator onsite.

Gas prices still putting the heat on manufacturers

Chemistry Australia CEO Samantha Read has said that manufacturers in the Australian chemistry industry are not seeing an end to rising east coast gas prices.

“While there has been some important Government action, the crisis is not over,” said Read.

“If anything, there appears to be continued upward pressure both on the cost of gas and its delivery. Members are still reporting increases of between 30 per cent and 60 per cent in negotiating new gas energy contracts.

“Australia will pay a heavy price with job losses across the manufacturing sector. This is a double-whammy hitting everyday Australians who are already struggling at home with rising power and gas bills.”

Gas is particularly essential to the business of chemistry. The Australian chemistry industry uses 10 per cent of Australia’s domestic gas for its molecular properties to create a huge range of products including fertilisers for  crops, smart packaging to keep our food fresher for longer, and more.

The 2014 Deloitte Access Economics Report forecast losses of 14,500 jobs between 2014 and 2021 in net present value terms, due to rising gas costs and constrained supply.

According to Read however, there are real industry concerns that the job losses may be even higher than forecast. This is because the modelling applied was based on gas in the $8 to $10 per gigajoule range, however some manufacturers are being faced with $12 to $16 per gigajoule, or even higher.

“These shifts of a dollar or two per gigajoule don’t illustrate the full impact to businesses, where the actual dollar effect is in the hundreds of thousands, and in some cases millions, added to input costs,” said Read.

“We welcome the Federal Government’s announcement last week that the Australian Domestic Gas Safeguard Mechanism is now active. This provides some short-term supply certainty for gas buyers.

“Short-term measures help give businesses time to assess their position. But it’s the long-term vision that will ultimately decide whether a business continues operations in Australia.

“If a business can make it through this period of crisis, will there be more gas supply, at more competitive prices, into a more transparent market.

The most fundamental part of the mechanism is new gas supply, according to Read. She believes that if all states were to adopt the ACCC’s recommendation for a case-by-case assessment on projects, this would open investment and jobs growth potential.

“There has been a lack of understanding of how critical domestic gas is to job creation,” said Read.

“Australia has an abundance of gas; our ambition should be greater than just meeting current day demand. Gas can create opportunities right through Australia’s value chains, and be a catalyst for investment just as it is in other countries endowed with similar gas reserves.”

Gas is particularly important to the business of chemistry. It is important for process energy, and it is also a non-substitutable ingredient for advanced manufacturing, according to Chemistry Australia.

The Australian chemistry industry uses 10 per cent of Australia’s domestic gas for its molecular properties to create a huge range of products essential to peoples’ everyday lives. These include fertilisers for crops, cleaning products for health and hygiene in homes and hospitals, and smart packaging to keep food fresher for longer.

 

Turnbull promises manufacturers new gas deal

The government has promised to halve the price manufacturers pay for gas to ensure affordable supplies across the industry.

Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull has noted that 65,000 jobs which are reliant on gas are at risk and would remain that way until action was taken.

The government has announced that Resource minister Matt Canavan will have new powers to “block exports” unless there are adequate supplies to meet Australia’s needs.

“It will ensure that the price of gas in Australia is at levels comparable to that in the international market because it is a global commodity,” Mr Turnbull told ABC radio.

“But what we’ve seen is because of these anticipated shortfalls, gas suppliers have been proposing contract prices which are really way too high.

“They are as much as four or five times the price per gigajoule, which is the metric, that are being offered in the United States.

“It’ll be cheaper than the prices that are being offered now, people are being offered prices of $20 a gigajoule, it should be around half that or less.”

While LNG exporters have contractual obligations they must meet, Turnbull also said that Australia’s free-trade agreements gave the government a right to protect local industry from gas shortages.

“They will not be able to export gas if that has the consequence of reducing the availability of gas for the Australian market,” Turnbull continued.

“This is a national interest matter, it is a short-term solution to a longer-term problem. The longer-term challenge that we face is we are not producing enough gas on the east coast — that is because of bans on gas exploration and development in Victoria above all and to a lesser extent in NSW.”

Govt releases Energy White Paper

The federal government’s Energy White Paper, released yesterday, has been largely welcomed by business leaders but criticised by environmentalists.

Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane said the government wants to ensure Australians receive competitively priced and reliable energy supplies into the future.

According to the White Paper, this can be best achieved by promoting competition in energy markets, increasing energy productivity and facilitating investment in energy resources development.

“The measures in the Energy White Paper will deliver stable energy policy and efficient transparent markets that give consumers information to make choices about their energy use and industry the confidence to invest,” Macfarlane said.

As AAP reports, the paper suggests consumers pay more for energy during peak hours and less during times of low demand.

It also includes policies the government has already announced, such as encouraging states to sell off electricity assets.

It suggests increased use of coal seam gas and leaves open the possibility of the future introduction of nuclear energy. It says international nuclear energy developments should be monitored.

However, it rejects the concept of a domestic gas reserve.

Controversially, the White Paper says future energy policy should be "technology neutral". In other words, high polluting fossil fuel energy sources should be treated in the same way as clean renewable sources.

Environmentalists attacked this position. For example, the Climate Institute called it a "fantasy of climate ignorance", while Greens leader Christine Milne said the paper should be "binned along with the Warburton review into the RET".

Industry was more positive.

Welcoming the paper, Kate Carnell AO, CEO of the ACCI said, “The White Paper shows that Australia can reap substantial benefits by meeting global energy demand, which is expected to rise by over one-third by 2040. We can only achieve this by streamlining regulation and attracting investment into new projects and supply.

And the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) CEO Gary Dawson said, “In releasing the Energy White Paper, the Australian Government has agreed with industry’s calls for gas market reform by increasing gas supplies, improving competition and increasing information about gas supply availability and pricing.”

Image: www.bbc.com