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Impact story: Collaboration with local brewery to improve the sustainability of the craft beer industry

Exterior of a greenhouse on a sunny day. Through the glass you see hop plants and people inside the greenhouse. Photo.
Next to the Swedish craft beer brewery Brygghuset Finn, LUCSUS researchers have built a greenhouse where they test the possibility to grow all year-round hops.

In a collaboration with the Swedish local brewery, Brygghuset Finn, LUCSUS researchers are working toward finding ways of improving sustainability of the craft beer industry. The project is part of an international research project, which focuses on identifying and testing local solutions to challenges within the food-water-energy nexus.

We have been collaborating with a local brewer in Landskrona, Sweden, by testing different indoor alternatives for growing hops, in a greenhouse adjacent to the brewery, says Barry Ness, Associate Professor at Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies, who is leading the project.

The sustainability aspect of beer production
 

Beer production is a resource-intense industry, and the environmental costs are large due to the high use of water and energy, as well as transportation. Hops, which is a crucial component in beer brewing, is transported from around the world to local breweries in Sweden. The last years have also revealed a vulnerability within the global supply chain. Intense heatwaves in hop producing states in the US have decreased the harvest, while in Germany, the second largest hop producing country in the world, floods have destroyed parts of the crops. This has resulted in a global shortage of hops.

The dependence on globally produced hops make the sustainability aspect of beer production a challenge, especially for small scale breweries. For the Swedish local brewery, Brygghuset Finn, the project of finding ways to grow hops in Sweden is not only a possibility to reduce climate costs, but also to explore ways of securing their production line.

- You can grow some hops in Sweden, but not the aromatic kinds that comes from the US or Australia. If we can find ways of growing the hops we need here, locally, it would help us a lot, says Joacim Larsen, directing manager at Brygghuset Finn.

Darin Wahl on a ladder picking hops, surrounded by hop plants. Photo.
In October 2021, the researchers were able to harvest crops from three different varieties of hops grown in the greenhouse.

Since 2019, the researchers have tested different types of indoor growing systems, as well as growing different varieties of hops. Despite some challenges with e.g., infestations of spider mites, along the way, the researchers were able to harvest three types of hops, which have been grown hydroponically in the greenhouse. Although on a small scale, this shows that it is possible to locally produce resources needed for beer production in Sweden – a key factor for improving the sustainability of the industry, according to the researchers.

Successful collaboration between academia and societal actors
 

The researchers collaborated with experts, both within and outside of academia, throughout the project: from improving ways of growing techniques to gaining insights in beer production.

- During different parts of the process, we have realized that there is knowledge that we never knew that we needed. It’s exciting to be part of the process as it unfolds and together with different people discover new ways of looking at a problem, says PhD candidate Darin Wahl.

For Brygghuset Finn, the collaboration with academia has provided them with new perspectives on how to increase the sustainability of beer production.

- As a company we have a lot of learning to do, that’s why the cooperation with the University has been valuable. It has given us new perspectives and knowledge that we have been able to test here at the brewery, says Joacim Larsen.

Joacim Larsen, director of brewery Brygghuset Finn looks at newly harvested hops that he holds in his hand. Photo.
It is hard to grow hops in Sweden with the right characteristics and the consistency that is needed in beer production. The project is a way for Brygghuset Finn to test the possibility of growing their own hops for their production.

What is the next step?
 

- The next part of the project will focus on enhancing the growth rate of the hops in the greenhouse. By using waste heat and access carbon dioxide from the beer brewery, we will test the possibility of adjusting the climate in the greenhouse, and in that way securing a year around growing of the hops, concludes Barry Ness.

After testing different solutions on a small scale, the researchers will investigate how the knowledge they have gained can be used on a more commercial scale and in the long-term contribute to the sustainability of the craft beer industry globally.

Close up of a hop plant in the sun. Photo.
By piping carbon dioxide produced in the fermentation process of the brewing, directly from the beer tanks in the brewery to the greenhouse, the researchers hope to be able to enhance the growth rate and grow hops all year round.
 

Barry Ness and Darin Wahl on the key impacts of the project

 

What is the greatest impact of this collaboration for you as researchers?

Barry: The greatest impact from this research have been the insights that stem from our direct collaboration with actors outside of academia when trying to promote sustainable change. Much of the research that exists in the field today doesn’t delve down into the details of longer-term collaboration with different organizations in society. Through this research, we have been able to better understand the process. This has been both at the inter-personal level, and intra-personal, in how we, as researchers, interact and are reflexive throughout the research process.

Darin: The lab based transdisciplinary research that is out there has focused quite a lot on what was done and much less on how decisions and subsequent actions were taken. And perhaps for good reasons. It is difficult to bridge contexts to make the process with one team relevant to others. But we are finding that there is a lot that can be learned from how a transdisciplinary research process unfolds, and by sharing these process insights we believe we can help other transdisciplinary research teams refine their processes, and perhaps more easily anticipate and overcome obstacles. 

What type of impact do you think this project will have on society?

Barry: The main societal contribution that comes from our research is an increased understanding of sustainability, especially for regional craft alcohol producers. This can be more nuanced comprehensions of individual sustainability parameters (e.g., water and energy use, community engagement) via the set of sustainability principles that we co-created with industry actors, or about other sustainability topics relevant for them, such as debates around organic versus local ingredients. It is difficult at this point to determine if our efforts will result in societal change (e.g., a model for breweries to produce their own ingredients) for our on-site hydroponic hop growing. We rather see the process as a long series of hop growing trials that contribute to a piecemeal understanding of the hydroponic hop growing process and how such systems can be enhanced by brewing process waste streams.

Darin: I think some of the more important things happening are the conversations taking place between us and our local brewer contacts. The way they think and talk about sustainability has changed and continues to evolve. And we aren’t sure what impacts that might have later on. Another important aspect is the network building between the craft brewers through our projects, both locally and internationally. We are working on ways to bring brewers together from different countries but linked through our work and their commitment to change for sustainability to share ideas and learn from each other to build capacity for change. We don’t know what could come from that.

GLOCULL

The collaboration with Brygghuset Finn is undertaken as part of the international research project, GLOCULL, which aims to develop, physically implement and test novel solutions to sustainability challenges within the food, water, and energy (FWE) nexus.

Challenges in food, water and energy systems are locally and globally connected. For local actors, including cities, it is difficult to anticipate whether solutions to one issue in the FWE nexus are sustainable across food, water and energy systems, both at local and global levels.

To support future implementation of this approach, guidelines and a participatory assessment toolkit will be developed through co-creation in seven Urban Living Labs based on an integrated assessment of local-global interactions in the FWE nexus and transdisciplinary action-research.

Visit the project website

For additional collaborative project activities to promote sustainability with small & medium-sized enterprises, go to the TRANSFORM website