Full flavor, less water: GEA develops water-saving membrane dealcoholization system for beer

The GEA AromaPlus membrane dealcoholization plant at Schönbuch Braumanufaktur in Böblingen has been producing a multiple award-winning non-alcoholic wheat beer since May 2018
The GEA AromaPlus membrane dealcoholization plant at Schönbuch Braumanufaktur in Böblingen has been producing a multiple award-winning non-alcoholic wheat beer since May 2018Photo - GEA

GEA unveils a new sustainability option for the membrane system for beer dealcoholization at Drinktec 2022: GEA AromaPlus PRO reduces the water consumption for diafiltration during dealcoholization by up to 100%. The alcoholic base produced as a by-product of the filtration process can be used for manufacturing other beverages in the brewery, such as Hard Seltzer. This technical solution is one of the GEA innovations at the trade fair to address the fresh water consumption of production processes.

Up to 100% less fresh water used in diafiltration

GEA AromaPlus uses a filtration technology with special polymer membranes to separate alcohol and water from the other ingredients by means of reverse osmosis; these ingredients are crucial for the aroma, color and turbidity of the final product. Adding the new PRO technology to the water-saving CO2 blow-out function and the selective membrane which is already implemented in the AromaPlus unit design, GEA succeeds in saving more than two third up to 100% of the fresh water used for diafiltration.

“Our latest AromaPlus generation combines the trend towards 0.0% beer with the goal of reducing water in production,” adds Ralf Scheibner, filtration expert at GEA, under whose leadership the GEA AromaPlus has been further developed. “In fact, a membrane process requires a lot of water to flush out the alcohol. That is an issue for breweries with a limited deoxygenized water availability. Our new PRO solution is an important step for them towards fresh water neutrality in production processes.”

The complete dealcoholization system GEA AromaPlus is mounted on a frame. It comprises the filtration modules and reverse osmosis membranes, pumps for media transfer and system pressure build-up, the entire internal piping, a CIP dosing unit installed next to the system, and the control equipment required for semi-automated operation.
The complete dealcoholization system GEA AromaPlus is mounted on a frame. It comprises the filtration modules and reverse osmosis membranes, pumps for media transfer and system pressure build-up, the entire internal piping, a CIP dosing unit installed next to the system, and the control equipment required for semi-automated operation.Photo - GEA

Dealcoholization technology makes breweries more crisis-proof

So while breweries need less fresh water for the diafiltration step, the permeate leaving the system can be reused as a valuable by-product. Due to its lower volume, it has a higher alcohol content and can thus serve as a base for alcoholic mixed drinks and trendy beverages, such as Hard Seltzer, or can be reused within the brewery itself.

“The Corona pandemic showed that breweries whose production facilities offered the flexibility to process other beverages coped best with the drop in demand. GEA AromaPlus is a good example of how customers can gear their plants toward high demand dynamics,” says Scheibner. Originally designed for the dealcoholization of beer down to 0.0%, the system is equally used for other non-alcoholic beverages, such as 0.0% cider.

Cold filtration preserves the original flavors in non-alcoholic beer

While only a few years ago the thermal method was accepted for large production volumes and for achieving “0.0% by volume” membrane filtration is now on the fast track as the gentlest dealcoholization technology. The GEA AromaPlus membrane dealcoholization is pioneering this technology. Instead of requiring high temperatures that affect the taste, it uses pressure. Based on a specially developed reverse osmosis membrane, very selective for ethanol, brewers can filter at a low temperature level. The original flavors are preserved and do not need to be restored after alcohol removal.

Segment on course for growth

Non-alcoholic beers no longer have to play second fiddle to their alcoholic counterparts. They are becoming a lifestyle drink in their own right. According to IWSR Drinks Market Analysis, non-alcoholic and low-alcoholic beverages account for 3.5% of sales in the ten highest-volume markets, representing more than 75% of global consumption in this sector. Their market share is now worth 10 billion US dollars. In 2021 alone, the segment grew by 6% in sales volume. For many a brewery, the rising demand for non-alcoholic beer was a ray of hope in the low-sales pandemic period, as the new buyer groups replaced parts of the previous trade in alcoholic beer.

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