In the last lesson we were speaking about transportation and different transportation modes. One of these models is a pipeline that usually transport liquids (e.g. water, oil), gases (e.g. natural gas, carbon monoxide) or slurry (e.g. carbon with water). During the lessons, our professor mentioned a beer pipeline in Belgium. This sounded interesting and strange at the same time, so I did a deeper research on this.
And he was not kidding:
in 2017, the world´s first beer pipeline was opened in the Belgian city of Bruges.
The first thing you may think now is the following: Oh cool, can I get beer out of the tub in my home?
But as this is a logistics blog, of course the reason for building this pipeline is a logistical one. The pipeline does not connect private homes or restaurants.
What can we learn from a beer pipeline?
From this very special case, many things about pipelines in logistics can be learned. The main reason for using pipelines in general is the fact, that even besides the high construction cost, usually they are more economical than using tank ships or tank trucks and simplify complicated transport systems.
So what is the reason for the pipeline? The traditional brewery “De Halve Maan” had a logistical problem: The historic oldtown of Bruges had not enough space for an extension of the brewery´s facilities. As it was the oldest brewery in Bruges´ oldtown, they wanted to stay there. So, they build a bottling plant in a suburb, 3 kilometers away from the brewery. From then on, every day 4 or 5 road tankers, which carried 30.000 liters of beer, had to bring the beer from the brewery in the old town to the bottling plant. And here is the problem: The old town of Bruges which has very narrow little streets that are full of tourists. So, it was very difficult for the tankers to move forward and of course, this was not very economic neither.
As the owner was searching for a more practical solution, he came up with the idea of a pipeline. As mentioned before, it brings the freshly brewed beer from the brewery in the old town to the bottling plant in a suburb. I hour, about 5.000 liters of beer are flowing through the pipeline. This is enough to fill 12.000 bottles an hour. And besides the easier transport, the pipeline works as a big marketing tool for both the brewery and the city of Bruges.
The pipeline is 3.3 km long and at its deepest point 34 meters under the surface as it has to pass a parking garage. It was constructed using the latest technology and for that reason the road surface had to be opened only at two big spots as the digging was down from little holes automatically by special robots. The pipeline has also a cleaning and flushing system.
But not only the construction is similar to bigger water pipelines. Also, the rate of flow remembers of an oil pipeline which usually has a flow velocity of 3 to 5 km/h. The beer in the pipeline flows also pretty slow, it needs approximately 1 hour for the 3 km. This equals about 5000 liters per hour. For details, watch the video at minute 0:55:
The “De Halve Maan” brewery spend about 4 Million € for the project. A quite big part – 300.000 € – has been crowdfunded. By paying the top rate of 7.500 €, sponsor would get one beer per day for the rest of their lives for free and this way are getting close to the dream that was mentioned in the beginning: an inexhaustible flow of beer.