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USDA cites Marble Distilling for leadership

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By John Colson

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

The management at Marble Distilling Company (MDC) recently got word they have received a $197,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which recognizes the distillery’s “leadership” in water conservation and energy efficiency, according to distiller Connie Baker.

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The grant acknowledges the MDC’s system for recycling four-million gallons of water and using heat-transfer technology to leech energy from the water at certain points in the system to heat and cool the distillery building as well.

“MDC is taking a leadership role among 50-plus craft distillers of Colorado by launching their innovative Water Energy Thermal Storage (WETS) design to save both energy and process water,” Baker said in a written statement this week.

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Baker told The Sopris Sun that her company plans to reach out to distilleries large and small to encourage them to make use of the MDC designs for their own facilities.

Baker said she and her partners applied for the USDA grant before they had even paid for the materials to build their system, due to the complicated nature of the grant-application process.

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She said the grant covered “over a quarter of the costs” of the WETS system, which she said has a 10-year payback thanks to savings in water bills and heating and cooling costs.

Concerning her outreach plans, Baker said, already two distilleries have sent representatives to study the MDC’s methods.

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“Most distilleries in the U.S. send everything down the drain,” she said of water used to cool the distilled liquids during the process of making vodka and other spirits.

But at MDC, two 5,000-gallon tanks hold either warm water or cool water that already has been used in the distilling process.

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For instance, water is used to cool the vapors distilled from the grains during fermentation, and that warmed water gets sent to a holding tank, where heat-transfer equipment uses the energy to heat the building in the winter.

And water that has had the heat extracted from it can either be used to cool the building down in the summer, using something similar to a swamp cooler, or reused in cooling down the fermenters or the distilled alcohol vapors.

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The system also includes what Baker called a “dry cooler” on the roof of the building, where warmed water also can be cooled at night before being returned to the circulatory system.

“So it’s a closed-loop system — harnessing all the energy, the heat,” she said.

She said the amount of energy captured by all this activity amounts to “enough to power 20 homes in Carbondale.”

And, she said enthusiastically, their system is “the first of its kind, as far as we know.”

She said other distilleries use some systems similar to parts of what the MDC has put together, “but we’re the first we could find to put it all together.”

Not only that, Baker said the “spent grains” left behind by the distilling process “are pure protein, the best kind of livestock feed,” which is sent to a ranching operation owned by Tim Fenton and Cassie Cerise.

“So, we’re a zero-waste facility,” Baker said proudly.

She said she is working on a presentation for the next convention of the American Distilling Institute, to spread the word about the MDC system.

“If we can save four million gallons (of water), and we’re a small distillery, on a very small site, if others did it, imagine how much water we’d save,” she said.

The Marble Distilling Company and Distillery Inn (a grouping of hotel rooms in the same building) is located at 150 Main St. in Carbondale, and Baker can be reached at connie@marbledistilling.com.

Published in The Sopris Sun on September 17, 2015.

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