Veolia Water Technologies & Solutions

Distillery Wastewater Monitoring with Online Total Organic Carbon (TOC) Analysis - How to Reduce Costs and Downtime with Real-time Data


Distillery wastewater and Total Organic Carbon (TOC)


In the beverage industry, water is both the basis of the product and the medium for the sanitation process. Water is an active player in almost every stage of the food and beverage (F&B) production process including being the primary cleaning agent for the production floor, the intermediate cleaning agent between batches, the driving force for material transportation, and an ingredient in the product itself. Both influent and effluent water in the F&B industry must be monitored to ensure compliance with local and federal regulations. Since the F&B industry uses a significant amount of water throughout the production process, creating better ways to treat and monitor wastewater is at the forefront of operational and sustainability goals to ultimately reduce cost and downtime while being environmentally compliant. 

Challenges with Distillery Wastewater

Distillery wastewater is one of the most polluted waters to treat and dispose of in the F&B industry. Roughly 88% of a distillery's raw materials are converted to waste alone*. It is difficult to treat and dispose of this wastewater due to its dark color, high temperature, high ash content, low pH as well as high amounts of dissolved organic and inorganic material. 

While characteristics of this industrial wastewater depend on a facility’s ethanol process and feedstock, distillery wastewater will commonly have high levels of biological oxygen demand (BOD) and chemical oxygen demand (COD) concentrations which, if left untreated, pose a great threat to the surrounding aquatic life that live in the bodies of water it is discharged to. Treatment for distillery wastewater will vary from one facility to another, but the major treatment practices include physical, biological, and chemical. 

TOC Monitoring vs COD/BOD

Monitoring total organic carbon (TOC) in distillery wastewater is important for regulatory compliance because organic compounds that leave a facility untreated will be broken down by microorganisms living in the water the effluent is released into. While this may not seem catastrophic, the microorganisms that break down organic compounds deplete the dissolved oxygen content in the water while they’re busy digesting the organic compounds. Understandably, monitoring organics in effluent wastewater is vital to ensure it is safe for the surrounding aquatic environment. 

Although BOD and COD testing are reputable methods for determining the amount of waste in wastewater, there are limitations on both tests that prevent them from providing actionable data on effluent quality in real-time. BOD takes days to provide results, has poor reproducibility, and is susceptible to inferences with toxic chemicals commonly found in distillery wastewater. COD yields results faster than BOD but its data is usually higher than BOD, is not always suitable for certain applications, and generates waste by using toxic chemicals during analysis that must be disposed of properly. 

Using TOC to monitor organics in wastewater is more efficient than BOD/COD and provides actionable information for cost savings and compliance. Within minutes, TOC analysis can quantify the total carbon in a sample by generating CO2 via an oxidative reaction that has less interference and does not use toxic chemicals for analysis. BOD and COD indirectly measure organic content by measuring oxygen demand while TOC directly monitors the carbon loading and removal which is the primary load from distillery wastewater and the target to be removed during wastewater treatment. Compared to BOD and COD, TOC analysis provides optimal uptime with more precise and rapid results so that operators can make data-driven decisions without delay or the use of toxic chemicals. 

Online Analysis for Quick Decision-Making

Another benefit of measuring TOC is that there are more options for users who want to grab samples periodically (which can be analyzed via lab TOC units) or want continuous monitoring (via online TOC units). Online analyzers allow the facilities to generate real-time data on their wastewater stream and decide quickly whether or not they need to reintroduce the effluent wastewater back to the treatment process for being out of compliance. For this application, distilleries should choose online analyzers that are reliable in data quality, robust enough to handle complex sample matrices, and responsive to changes in the system.

The online Sievers* TOC-R3 Analyzer uses a non-catalytic high-temperature combustion method that offers simple maintenance and low cost of ownership resulting in high instrument uptime. Its automated dilution, rinsing, and check standard capabilities allow for high uptime even in challenging sample matrices. The Sievers TOC-R3 is built with a robust, modular design that provides rapid responsiveness to change in the sample matrix and reliability through predictive diagnostics. 

Achieving Compliance and Sustainability Goals

F&B industries need to monitor wastewater in a cost-effective manner and be in compliance with regulatory requirements. Monitoring wastewater using online TOC analysis provides the distillery facilities with reliable real-time analysis to make responsive data-driven decisions on the wastewater processes. The Sievers TOC-R3 online analyzer meets these requirements while providing high instrument uptime and simple maintenance. This enables optimization of water use, resources, and treatment. With the significant amount of water used in F&B production and the challenges associated with distillery wastewater treatment and disposal, the need for better monitoring tools is apparent to reduce cost and downtime while meeting discharge regulations. 


Author: Sara Speak

Sara Speak is a Product Application Specialist with Veolia Water Technologies & Solutions, providing support and application expertise to Sievers Analytical Instruments customers in industries such as chemical, petrochemical, food & beverage, and municipal wastewater. 

Sara works with customers to provide training, support product installations, optimize equipment use, and demo feasibility across different testing applications. Prior to her current role, she was a Factory Service Technician, responsible for repairing and troubleshooting Sievers instruments. Sara previously worked in the food and beverage industry as a QA Laboratory Technician at MillerCoors and Leprino Foods. She holds a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Chemistry and a Bachelor of Music (B.M.) in Violin Performance from Metropolitan State University of Denver.



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