In a few weeks, a centuries-old brewery in Belgium will start pouring its beer underground. It's the company's solution to a modern problem: Traffic in the quaint, medieval city of Bruges is getting so bad that it's hard for the company to make deliveries. Instead of using trucks, De Halve Maan brewery will now ship its beer to a nearby bottling plant through a direct pipeline.
Bruges has narrow streets and is chock full of tourists. Trucks have a hard time getting anywhere on time. "Today the traffic and pollution are under control," says Xavier Vanneste, who runs the brewery. "But as the brewery is quickly growing—and considering the location of the brewery in the historic town of Bruges—it would not be affordable anymore, and problems would occur."
Vanneste was inspired in 2010 as he watched construction workers installing cable under the city's narrow cobblestone streets—and realized that it might be possible to build a similar underground network for beer.
"Pipeline technology is already widely in use in other sectors or utilities—gas, oil, water, etc.," he says. "It is probably the first time that it will be used for this application—beer."
In fact, a couple of other places actually do have more direct beer pipelines—like bars in a German soccer arena, where beer is sent via pipes from storage tanks underground—or a bar across the street from a brewery in Cleveland. But this is likely the first to have a real impact on traffic.
The pipeline, roughly three kilometers long, will help De Halve Maan avoid an estimated 1,000 tanker truck trips every year. The company didn't calculate how much the pipeline will lower its carbon footprint or reduce air pollution, though it will do both.
It wasn't cheap, with construction costs totaling around $4.5 million. But the brewery helped offset some of that cost with a crowdfunding campaign. The top pledgers got free beer for life.
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