Brewery wastewater treatment

Water is a critical ingredient in the production of beer. Depending on the brewery’s size and level of industrialization, it can take between 3.7 and 6 litres of water to produce a single litre of beer. While beer is mostly made up of 90 to 95% water, most of the water used by breweries is actually for cleaning and disinfecting equipment. As a result, the wastewater generated by the brewing process contains various components and cannot be directly or indirectly discharged without proper treatment. 

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On this page you will find detailed information on how to optimise and design a brewery wastewater treatment system. We give you a step-by-step guide to learn about the processes, possibilities, and solutions for your individual wastewater. Brewery wastewater treatment is a necessary step to reduce operating costs and protect the environment. 

Every brewery produces a unique wastewater, which depends on various factors such as the brewery’s size, the raw materials used, the cleaning processes, and even bottle cleaning. As a result, it’s crucial to tailor wastewater treatment solutions to each type of wastewater. At our company, we specialize in providing customized brewery wastewater treatment solutions that are tailored to the specific needs of each brewery. 

With the right choice of your treatment plant, you can be sure of complying with all the required values for direct or indirect discharge. 

wastewater treatment solution for dairy

Installation of modular biological wastewater treatment unit

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The reasons for considering a new brewery wastewater treatment plant can be different: When expanding a brewery for higher beer output, more wastewater is automatically produced, which is why a wastewater treatment plant may then need to be expanded. This is the case, for example, when planning a new brewhouse. In addition, the regional authorities may lower the limits for discharging wastewater into the public sewer system. As a result, you may have to pay heavy pollution surcharges, which is why wastewater treatment is an advantage and saves operational costs. The brewery’s decision to switch from indirect to direct discharge also requires more thorough wastewater treatment adapted to the individual circumstances. 

We are industry experts in brewery wastewater treatment and are happy to support you with a free, no-obligation consultation. If you think that an expansion or redesign of your wastewater treatment is worthwhile, please do not hesitate to contact us. We will be happy to help you. 

Sources and properties of brewery wastewater 

FBBR foe a dairy wastewater treatment

FBBR biological treatment

Compliance with all hygiene regulations is one of the top priorities of all breweries. Since beer is a particularly sensitive product, no foreign bacteria or yeast cultures may enter the brewing process. Especially after the hops have been boiled, a particularly hygienic workflow is essential. Therefore, the permanent and constant cleaning of all brewing utensils, mash pans, lauter tuns as well as the fermentation and storage tanks is particularly important. For this reason, two main types of wastewaters are produced in breweries: When all the brewing vats are rinsed or when the spent grains collection tanks are cleaned, mainly biological contaminants such as sugar, yeasts, starch, and husks mix into the wastewater. When cleaning storage tanks and bottles, cleaning chemicals are also mixed into the wastewater. This results in different effluents, which differ mainly in the concentration of COD, BOD5, the pH value and the nitrogen load. 

Beer essentially consists of four basic ingredients: Water, malt, hops and yeast. Although some breweries also use alternative ingredients such as fruit, large industrial breweries generally limit themselves to using the four main ingredients. 

The water used in breweries to make beer must be at least drinking water quality. Therefore, no contamination of the wastewater emanates from this ingredient. All other ingredients are responsible for organic contamination of the wastewater. 

brewery wastewater treatment
brewery wastewater treatment mashing


Malt is, after water, the quantitatively largest basic ingredient to produce beer. The two most used types of malt are barley malt and wheat malt. Since the enzymes alpha-amylase and beta-amylase are responsible for converting the starch present in the malt into fermentable and non-fermentable sugar, alcohol, carbonic acid, and the residual sugar remaining in the beer are produced. Once the process of mashing is complete, spent grains are the waste product, which are mainly suitable as cattle feed, but also for baking bread. 

Malt has a significant impact on brewery wastewater treatment. However, it does not matter whether it is light barley malt, light wheat malt or roasted malt. The mash tun and the lauter tun are the only two vessels in the brewing process that come into contact exclusively with the wort without the addition of hops. When these vessels are cleaned, wastewater is therefore produced, which is mainly sugary and contains spent grains. You will find an overview of the wastewater that is produced during the cleaning of these two containers on the right. 


Hop addition 

Unlike malt, only a very small amount of hops is needed to brew beer. This is because hops have a strong flavour, but they are also very expensive. Depending on the alpha acid content, the beer becomes either more bitter or fruitier. However, hops are not only responsible for the taste of the beer, but also for its shelf life and a stable head. 

Hops can be added to the wort in different forms. Hop cones are rare nowadays but hop pellets or hop extract are used more frequently, especially in industrial breweries. Hop pellets are compressed, pressed hops that swell in the wort, release their aroma, but have to be filtered out of the wort after boiling. This can therefore always be a component of the cleaning water and thus has a significant influence on the brewery wastewater treatment. Hop extract is a viscous addition that leaves no solid residue after boiling. However, both hop variants release hop resins which can adhere to the walls of the pan after being transferred. Thus, after cleaning, they are part of the wastewater. An overview of the pollutant load of this type of wastewater can be found below. 

brewery wastewater treatment after hop addition
brewery wastewater treatment after fermentation


The yeast is responsible for converting the fermentable sugar into carbon dioxide and alcohol. After fermentation, the beer matures in a storage tank from which it is bottled, usually via filtration. Here, too, regular cleaning of the tanks plays a decisive role. Therefore, residual yeast as well as sugar and alcohol can be part of the wastewater. An overview of this type of wastewater can be found below. 



Beer is bottled either in kegs, cans, or bottles. In terms of sustainability and the circular economy, it is crucial to reuse already used kegs and glass bottles. For example, a glass bottle can be reused up to 60 times before it becomes unusable and is melted down. Each brewery therefore has its own bottle acceptance system. Cleaning the bottles and kegs removes not only beverage residues but also foreign bodies that can get into the bottles. This means that a wastewater volume of around 65 litres per hectolitre of beer is produced in this area. 

Cleaning agents are a core component of this type of wastewater. In most cases, alkalis, and acids as well as ready-made cleaning agents and disinfectants are used to achieve the most efficient cleaning result. The most used cleaning acids are phosphoric acid, nitric acid, and sulphuric acid. The maximum use of cleaning chemicals is over 1,200 g per hectolitre. Container cleaning is a highly automated CIP process in which the amount of water, water temperature, use of chemicals and water pressure are precisely adapted to the containers to be cleaned. An overview of the specific chemical consumption can be found below. 

brewerywastewater treatment bottling
ValueNaOH50% Basic acids Confectioned means Belt lubricant

Options of brewery wastewater treatment 

Many breweries are centrally located in a city or municipality. Therefore, most of them discharge their wastewater directly into the municipal sewer system. Only about 10% of all breweries currently treat their wastewater for direct discharge into a receiving water body. 

Therefore, there are three alternatives for brewery wastewater treatment: 

Dairy industry wastewater

Indirect discharge

Indirect discharge involves releasing the wastewater into the public sewer system. From there, the wastewater reaches the municipal sewage treatment plant, which treats it. This always requires a permit from the regional water authority. 

To be able to discharge the wastewater indirectly, pre-treatment is indispensable. Above all, screening plays a decisive role. The best method is a drum screen with a small mesh width. This should be around 1 mm, as mesh widths of around 3 mm can quickly become clogged if there are husks in the wastewater. 

Since some breweries have to pay heavy pollution surcharges if they discharge their wastewater into the sewage system without further pre-treatment, an SBR process is often worthwhile as a further pre-treatment step for brewery wastewater treatment. This breaks down the COD and BOD5 to the desired level, depending on the treatment duration and aeration intensity. 

Direct discharge

In direct discharge, the brewery discharges the wastewater into a receiving water body – that is a stream, river, catchment basin or other public water body. Reusing the treated wastewater to irrigate the brewery’s own green spaces is also a form of direct discharge. 

This requires a higher purification stage, which is best realised by a biological treatment step, such as the FBBR process. Here, we have developed a system of cascaded fixed beds for the food and beverage industry that can be easily adapted to brewery wastewater treatment. 

This process is ideally suited for brewery wastewater treatment, as the contaminants consist mainly of sugar, alcohol, and organic suspended matter. The wastewater can only be reliably treated for direct discharge by mechanical pre-treatment and this stand-alone biological treatment step. 

wastewater direct discharge

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Wastewater Reuse

The reuse of treated wastewater plays a decisive role in breweries. Above all, the cleaning of all brewing utensils, boilers and tanks requires a high volume of water. To achieve the degree of purity required here, ultrafiltration is necessary in addition to mechanical screening and the biological treatment process. This ultra-fine membrane process filters almost all particles out of the wastewater, making it suitable for CIP (clean-in-place). 

Choosing the right process is crucial to reliably achieving the desired cleaning result. Incorrect design can lead to the desired cleaning result not being achieved or to system failures. 

We are happy to support you in the correct design of your wastewater treatment plant. The following guide will give you a good overview of the best approach. 

Wastewater sourceOptionsTreatment procedure
BreweryIndirect dischargeScreening
SBR process
Discharge into the environmentScreening
FBBR process
FBBR process

Planning and buying a brewery wastewater treatment plant 

You now know the sources and properties of brewery wastewater. We have already worked with numerous breweries worldwide and implemented various solutions for brewery wastewater treatment. Due to our many years of experience, we are the European market leader in this sector. 

ClearFox FBBR wastewater treatment solution

Aeration process in an FBBR reactor

Our focus is on:

  • Customer satisfaction 
  • Low costs for purchase and operation 
  • Compact footprint of all processes 
  • Remote monitoring with external access 
  • Design of the cleaning performance to the required values 
  • Reliable and long-lasting operation 
  • Hardly any maintenance work necessary 
  • Quick installation on site 
  • Personal contact for questions or suggestions 
  • Compliance with the budget 

In all our processes, we pay attention to the highest quality as well as effective, resource-saving treatment. That’s why we work closely with PIA GmbH, an international, independent testing institute for wastewater technology, which consistently certifies our outstanding treatment performance. 

Our solutions are modular and scalable, which allow us to design a brewery wastewater treatment system that can be easily expanded or modified to deal with different wastewater compositions. For short term requirements we also have some systems available to lease

When it comes to brewery wastewater treatment, it is crucial that the systems are mobile and modular. All our solutions are suitable for installation in containers, so that they can fit both in the production halls and on the brewery premises. This simple design means that they can be expanded at any time, should this be necessary. 

This means that no system is ever superfluous! Should you choose a treatment plant from us and increase your output, our system can easily be adapted to the new wastewater volume. 

Because we are industry experts in the food and beverage industry, we have developed reliable and durable systems that require minimal maintenance. With a simple user interface, you can operate our solutions yourself with just a few simple steps. 

The following guide will give you an insight into the planning and purchase of a wastewater treatment system for breweries. If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us. 

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