AB InBev and GE the Latest to Partner on Water Efficiency in China

Along with water and energy-efficient snacks to nibble on, tipplers in Asia will soon also have beers that require less energy and water in their production on their store shelves.

The people of Asia increasingly like to toss back a beer now and again and that's driving growth in the market for Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev), makers of Budweiser, Stella Artois and other beverages. That growth drove it to a partnership with General Electric announced today. Under the deal, GE will help AB InBev develop manufacturing solutions aimed at helping the beverage maker reach its lofty energy and water efficiency goals.

AB InBev has set a number of sustainability goals, including to reduce the amount of water it uses to 3.5 hectoliters (hl) per hl of beer, increase energy efficiency per unit of production and decrease CO2 emissions per unit of production by 10 percent compared to a 2007 baseline, all by the end of 2012.

The company is well on its way; water use was just above 4 hl in 2010, down from more than 5 hl in 2007, for example.

At the same time, AB InBev's business in Asia is growing. Its gross profits in the region grew 9.6 percent [PDF] in the first half of this year, according to a company report. That gives the region the second highest profit growth rate after only South America, which has a lower volume of sales than Asia.

Under the new deal, GE and AB InBev will first establish an "Innovation Team" that will examine AB InBev's operations and challenges to meeting its goals in more than 35 existing and "greenfield" Anheuser-Busch InBev facilities across China. That team will parlay its experiences into pilot solutions that will be fine tuned and spread throughout the rest of its China operations.

The specifics of the systems that the companies will use have yet to be defined at this point, but the general direction they'll take includes:

• Advanced software systems to provide insight into the level of energy and water used;
• combined heat and power (CHP) solutions that utilize gas engines;
• waste-to-value solutions that will enable efficient use of water and energy normally left over from the manufacturing process.

The CHP plans call for pilot sites to create electricity using either biogas or natural gas, according to a statement from the partners. If it works as hoped, CHP will help AB InBev achieve energy efficiency levels of 70 to 90 percent in the pilot plants. Overall, the work resulting from the partnership could reduce AB InBev's CO2 emissions by 100,000 tons per year, the companies said.

The new partnership follows news yesterday from PepsiCo to similarly make a big commitment to water efficiency in China specifically focused on its agricultural operations in the country.

And today's news is part of a slew of announcements from GE about growth of its renewable energy business: The company announced today 750 orders to purchase 1,200 MW of its 1.6-100 wind turbine, which brings the total number of orders and commitments for it to $2.7 billion and more than 2 gigawatts. GE also secured more than $800 million in commitments to supply wind and gas turbines for projects in Brazil that will produce 1.4 gigawatts of electricity or 40 percent of the total amount awarded in energy auctions conducted recently by Brazil's National Electric Power Agency. All told, the company today announced more than $3 billion in new customer agreements.

Photo CC-licensed by Jenny Downing.