Water recycling in space and a circular beer production

Koningshoeven Trappist Abbey

The history of the Koningshoeven Trappist Abbey, located in the province of Noord-Brabant in the Netherlands, goes back to 1884 when the brewery has been established and beer started to be produced under the supervision of the monastery’s monks. Corporate social responsibility is intrinsically connected with the abbey’s inner conviction and tradition, and a decision was made to renovate the factory, achieving a more sustainable use of water in the beer-brewing process. Aim is to treat different waste waters generated on site and make as much water and nutrients as possible available for reuse.

Space technology and a circular beer production

To achieve their ambitious goals, BioMakery, an innovative and ecological sustainable wastewater treatment system was created on the principle of water-based urban circularity. The biological wastewater treatment system builds energy, food, and waste systems around a regenerative and sustainable water cycle. The BioMakery serves as a test facility for advanced circular space technology developed within the micro-ecological life support system alternative (MELiSSA) program of ESA. SEMiLLA IPStar has a mandate to roll-out this technology in terrestrial applications.

Facts and figures

  • Water for beer production drawn from five 200-metre deep wells on the abbey grounds.
  • Brewery process produces almost 1,000,000 cubic meters of waste water each year.
  • BioMakery system powered by Metabolic Network Reactor (MNR) technology using 2-3,000 different species of organisms ranging from bacteria to higher level organisms such as plants.
  • BioMakery returns purified water back into the production process, minimising the water waste. Upon its completion in 2019, the system should reduce the amount of water used to brew La Trappe beer by 80%.
  • BioMakery produces phototrophic organisms. Possible use of Single Cell Proteins as slow-release fertilizer for plant nursery, as fish fodder, or as human food will be evaluated.

The result

In the La Trappe Abbey brewery, history and tradition meet with space age technology. When the monks wanted to make their beer-brewing process more sustainable, they chose a suite of techniques developed for MELiSSA to renovate their factory and recycle more water. The brewery produces almost a million cubic meters of wastewater each year. Thanks to the new recycling techniques the waste water is no longer be sent to a municipal processing plant but instead be re-used to irrigate the monks’ land, and potentially as water used during the bottle-washing process and as makeup water for beer production.

The result is a responsible and environment-minded production of an authentic Trappist product that also meets the top-quality product criteria. Provided funding by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, the project at La Trappe Brewery has been awarded the prestigious Dutch Water Innovation Prize of 2018 by the Dutch councils of municipal water.

Consecration of a bottle line at La Trappe Abbey brewery. The bottle line was part of the company’s effort to produce beer in an efficient and sustainable way. The brewery and abbey are a unique combination of an industrial and religious estate.

A sustainable solution

By focusing on a restorative and regenerative process by design, rather than consumption, this sustainable solution brings positive society-wide benefits. The transformational wastewater treatment system also fits within the Sustainable Development Agenda of the United Nations. The twelfth goal ‘Responsible consumption and production’ (SDG12) sets to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns and adopt sustainable practices. The agenda also suggest that businesses can use their innovative power to design solutions that can both enable and inspire individuals to lead more sustainable life-styles, reducing impacts and improving well-being.