World Water Day: Minister Zuhal Demir visits the Azulatis water treatment plant at the Stella Artois brewery.
The minister visited the facilities and tasted brewery wastewater treated to drinking water. That water is used, fully in line with the Flemish Blue Deal, for technical applications in the brewery. Since 2021, the Leuven brewery, in collaboration with Azulatis (the former Industry business unit of De Watergroep) has been purifying some 400,000 m³ of water, good for 160 Olympic swimming pools, into pure potable water in this way. Talks for further expansion are ongoing.Minister Zuhal Demir was shown around the brewery by brewery director Alexander Soenen and Hans Goossens, director general of De Watergroep. Both Minister Demir’s Blue Deal and all partners present strongly encourage the reuse of water and the efficient use of various water flows.Minister of Environment, Demir: “Circular water use is one of the answers to the drought problems of today and the future. Every drop of water we can reuse is a drop we don’t have to pump from the ground. Leading companies like AB Inbev are helping to set the stage for tomorrow’s water policy. To encourage other companies, I am releasing 4 million euros to support partnerships between at least three companies in their search for new ways to save and reuse water,” says Flemish Environment Minister Zuhal Demir.
Alexander Soenen, brewery director of the Stella Artois brewery, said, “We can be part of the solution and take our responsibility here as the largest brewer. Together with the expertise of De Watergroep, we already took the step in 2015 to purify water to potable level. Now it is time to go a step further and expand capacity from 200,000 m³ per year to 400,000 m³ per year, good for 160 Olympic swimming pools. Every drop counts; as a brewer we are indebted to nature. We optimize our water use and also return the rest of the used production water purified to the Dijle.”
This project fits perfectly within the vision of a sustainable and climate-robust water supply. Businesses get “customized water,” through water reuse projects and wastewater upgrading.
Pioneers in water treatment
The partnership between AB InBev and The Water Group dates back to 2015. That’s when the first feasibility studies were conducted to turn brewery waste water back into potable water. In 2016, small-scale water was recycled and since 2019 the volume of water treated to potable water was 200,000 m³ per year. That now goes to 400,000 m³ per year thanks to a recent investment. Discussions are also ongoing for another scale-up in the future.
Nikki Janssens, process technologist at Azulatis explains, “Often our clients are companies from the food and beverage sector or chemical companies. We identify available sustainable water sources and convert them to the desired final quality. Usually this is drinking water quality, often with additional requirements based on the customer’s production process. At AB InBev, we built the installation together with Flemish technology partner Waterleau. Azulatis is responsible for the design and operation of the plant.”
Water important beer ingredient
The recycled drinking water is certified by the Water Group and used in the brewery for technical applications. The rest of the used production water is also purified and returned to the Dyle River. During the hot summer months, the brewer also donates water to city and county green services and works with the Farmers Union to offer water to farmers as well. The sustainable reuse of water and even potable water through the installation of recycling systems is essential for AB InBev. “For a brewer, water reuse is by nature an important issue since water is the main beer ingredient. Besides reuse, we also have processes around water efficiency and optimization of water flows. We also donate water to the local green services every summer and also work with farmers, it’s a subject close to our heart,” Soenen clarifies.
Now also Jupille
Since 2019, the brewery in Jupille has also been using the reuse system and the volume of water was increased to 400,000 m³ last year. Steven Van Belleghem, brewery manager in Jupille, is enthusiastic: “After the successful procedure in the brewery in Leuven, it is fantastic that Jupille is also implementing the system to purify into drinking water. Without water, no beer, it’s as simple as that.”