Hospital Runs On Beer

A hospital and a local brewery in southern Wisconsin are piloting a program to create renewable energy.

The project, which began Oct. 7,  generates energy by turning methane discharge from City Brewery's waste treatment into power. The gas, which used to be flared or released into the atmosphere, is then converted to electricity using an engine installed by Gundersen Lutheran, a healthcare group headquartered in the same city.


The project should generate three million kilowatt hours each year, offsetting about 8 percent of the electricity used on two of Gundersen Lutheran’s largest campuses. Photo: Gundersen Lutheran

The electricity is then sent to the grid to be consumed by local power customers. To offset the costs of its consumption, the hospital is paid by the local utility for the power produced.

“With the cost of health care increasing, we are trying to hedge that inflation. We are working very aggressively to reduce the cost of energy and the cost of healthcare, and pass those savings on to patients,” said Jeff Rich, Gundersen Lutheran’s executive director of major projects and efficiency improvement.

To close the loop, heat generated from the engine will be captured and recycled back to produce heat for the waste treatment process at City Brewery.

“This project is pioneering. It’s transformational to think of a healthcare system taking action to be a producer of power,” said Rich.

Electricity generated from coal can increase the risk of heart, lung and liver disease, as well as lead to reproductive problems from mercury in water. Photo: Gundersen Lutheran

Electricity generated from coal can increase the risk of heart, lung and liver disease, as well as lead to reproductive problems from mercury in water. Photo: Gundersen Lutheran

But the combined heat and power project is just the first step toward Gundersen Lutheran’s goal of reaching energy independence. In hopes of creating a healthier and more sustainable environment for its patients, Gundersen Lutheran has started the “Envision” campaign.

Rich explained that hospitals are about two-and-a-half times as energy intensive as most business structures. “We are a big consumers of coal-fired electricity. But as a healthcare provider, that is not consistent with our mission.”

Gundersen Lutheran has a multi-pronged approach to environmental stewardship, including meeting 100 percent of its energy needs for its facilities by 2014, committing to environmentally and economically sustainable business practices, partnering with communities, providing national leadership and lowing healthcare costs.

It plans to meet these goals by using renewable energy, improving energy efficiency, working on recycling and waste management and achieving LEED certification of new buildings.

HealthLeaders Media said Gundersen Lutheran’s green initiative is “probably the most ambitious eco-friendly agenda of any healthcare entity in the United States.”

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  • Jager Bombs

    Now this is something I can get behind. I plan on doing my part and increasing my beer consumption by at least two fold. This will lead to more beer being brewed by the brewery and therefore, more clean energy for the hospital. Who knew being green could be so much fun? I enjoyed the article Lauren. Thanks.

  • Paul Heltzel

    Just curious–and realizing that it was previously being released directly into the atmosphere–what are the environmental effects of using methane discharge as a fuel source? How much carbon is being output compared to other potential methods of powering the facility?

  • Keep Gretzky

    Your question is a bit confusing. The reason for this article is to point out that this hospital is running of a methane gas stream (CH4) from a local brewery. Who knows what the brewery is fueling their processes with and the methane generated isn’t tied to their power source. Its tied to their brewing processes. Methane is the main component of natural gas with the shortest hydrocarbon chain meaning lowest BTU content but still significant heating value.

    What Lauren is pointing out, is that rather then release this methane into the atmosphere, the hospital captures it and utilizes it for power generation of its own. So you take CH4 + 2O2 and you get CO2 and 2H2O plus the heat generated which is required to generate power and thus electricity.

    In this process you are releasing the exact same amount of carbon. However, its in a different form (CO2 vs. CH4). Methane has about 20 times the ability to trap heat in the atmosphere then CO2 does according to the US EPA. So, its not a matter of how much carbon its a matter of what form of carbon. This hospital is doing an awesome thing. They capture energy potential that would have otherwise been wasted. They create a cleaner waste stream during this process. And most importantly, they make the hospital more profitable so healthcare can be cheaper for all of us.

    We’re going to hope that every hospital has these opportunities when socialistic healthcare drives the price through the roof.

  • Jager Bombs

    Keep Gretzky,

    I couldn’t agree more with you on how awesome the Hostpital’s actions are and that the awesome thing is that they chose to use the “waste” methane gas because it made economic sense for them, not because they were forced into it by the local, state or federal government. Once “green” energy, clean energy and recycling become economically benefitial to individuals, businesses and corporations they will be welcomed with open arms. Forcing individuals and businesses to “be green” is not the way to move forward. All that does is cause people to dig their heals in and oppose it out of spite. What this hospital has done makes economic sense and environmental sense and they should be commended for taking the initiative on this.

    Give me a “green” car that is as safe for my family, has the same or cheaper purchase price and has the same or cheaper operating and maintenence costs as my gas guzzler and I’ll be the first in line at the dealer to buy one.

    Great article Lauren and great comments so far.

  • Purple Goes Green

    Hey “great one” Gretsky, I’ve got a question you or others may be able to help with? How would carbon emissions be affected if people switched to a more concentrated “hard” alcohol source for consumption? It is difficult for me to decide which is a better choice for the environment.

    Think of all the wasted energy and carbon emissions transporting all the extra liquid in Beer. It weighs more (8.5 lbs per gallon) and takes up more space. It was pretty straightforward until I read this article about reusing the waste from beer. This is too complicated for me.

    I’ve always leaned toward Apple Pucker because it is more concentrated, but this new technology may just cause me to go back to beer.

    Either way, this technology is great news! Thanks Lauren.

  • Keep Gretzky

    I think you bring up a great point; however, you make a hasty generatlization that critically damages your argument. You seem to view alcohol consumption as being 100% correlated to getting drunk. That is a huge misconception that takes us to two categories. 1 – people who like beer and 2 – people who drink beer to get drunk. For the folks in category 1 who actually like beer, while their choice might not be economically friendly, its no different then drinking soda pop. They should not be victems of their taste buds. However, for the people in category 2, there is certainly an injustice to all earthly plants and animals (humans being in the latter in case you were wondering). Why do these people have to drink beer to get drunk? Getting drunk is getting drunk… and i should know. Heres a motion that i’d like to see someone follow up on. We search all citizens (and non citizens when we let everyone else in) guilty of or part of DWI, AA, MIP, liver disease and disorderly conduct (only happens when your drunk) and link a surplus tax to their ID’s because someone of this type is surely just trying to get drunk. Whenver one of these jokers tries to buy beer and shows their ID, they are hit with a 25% surplus tax. If they buy any alcohol over 40 proof they are allowed to pay the taxes we all pay. This 25% tax is then funneled to pay for the energy on projects that split hydrogen from hydrocarbon fossil fuels and reuses that hydrogen to power vehicles that we’ll tell the public have no emissions besides water mist. I think you’re really on to something here….

  • Purple Goes Green

    A 25% surcharge on alcohol offenders that goes toward supporting green projects, now that is an idea I’ll have a toast to!

    Since you bring up the topic, I’ve been told that more and more underagers are trying to get into bars today – anything to get some booze and participate in shennanigans. As a matter of fact, I heard there was a group of hoodlums out causing serious trouble in this neck of the woods just a couple of weeks ago.

    If these trouble makers become repeat offenders, and from the the sounds of it this group was, it would be great if it at least generated revenue to help our environment. The surplus tax going toward research, and the methane that could be extracted from the late-night BS spouted out by some of these drunken fools, could at the very least lead to some sort of hybrid vehicle breakthrough.

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  • Art W

    Keep it to the green Gretzky because you don’t know what you’re talking about on the alcohol issues. There is so much wrong with your logic, but lets start with this –>”We search all citizens (and non citizens when we let everyone else in) guilty of or part of DWI, AA, MIP, liver disease and disorderly conduct” Thinking of starting a Fascist regime? Next misthought –> “disorderly conduct (only happens when your drunk)” wrong, it happens when anyone sober or drugged gets out of hand. Why/how would you tax a person who is member of AA or has attended a meeting? 1. AA is anonymous, that is a major component of why it works. 2. Just because a person has attended a meeting or meetings does not necessarily make that person an alcoholic or a heavy drinker for that matter. A person can have a problem with alcohol and only drink a little. Next –> “Getting drunk is getting drunk… and i should know.” Put yourself on the tax list.
    When you were keeping to the point of the article in your first post you did alright, well, except for not knowing the elementary difference between using then and than. Creditability was lost in your second post when you let your unlearned opinion fly off the handle.

  • Keep Gretzky

    Art!!! Wow, thanks for the response. Quite honestly I’m surprised that you took the time to respond in such a detailed and well founded manner. I think most people picked up that I was using irrational logic on purpose with the intent of showing the slippery slope that liberals often take when justifying new taxes and new government initiatives. Many of the programs today (and programs that are currently being proposed in DC) seem just as illogical as my post.

    I definitely did not agree with what i was posting. It was all tongue in cheek. However, i did feel it was important to show that something so ridiculous could be presented in a way that the left would probably support. I am of the belief that taxes are a necessary evil. Necessary for certain things that protect the liberties this wonderful nation were founded upon. Not to strip us of those liberties.

    Keep getting involved and thinking for yourself. If all Americans showed your passion we’d be in a much better place.

  • lollidolly

    HI!! okay to start off this art guy needs to lern to control his words. (:. no need for smart elekness. Im only 15 yrs old and i even think your being utterly ridiculos. i kno its your opinion but be sure to express it a lil nicer. and i think its about time we do something difffrent with our energy. (:

    -lilly !!

  • Tybarn

    Yeah. What if we all just get naked and do the tango? We produce CO2 emissions from just living without even consuming commercial products. Don’t we all fart? Maybe the best thing to do is to allow China and India get into a huge nuclear war against eachother. That may eliminate a large proportion of emissions in the long run.