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From Beer to Energy: Researchers Turn Brewery Waste To Fuel Cell Technology

By J Russ I. , Oct 13, 2016 03:00 AM EDT
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Researchers from Boulder, Colorado just came up with a unique way for turning brewery wastes into low-cost lithium-ion battery electrodes. Beer manufacturers are not allowed to dump these waste products into sewers as they require extra filtration. Now, however, this waste product just got a lot more useful. 

These run-offs are quite abundant, too. "Breweries use about seven barrels of water for every barrel of beer produced," said Tyler Huggins, a graduate student in CU Boulder's Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering and lead author of the new study.

Beer Wastewater - An Excellent Source Of Battery Production

Currently, converting biological mass such as timber into carbon-based battery electrodes has been used by some energy industry sectors, according to Utility Dive. However, biomass that's naturally-occurring is innately in short supply, making it costly and difficult to effectively take advantage of.

But as the researchers recently found, this abundant byproduct makes for an excellent and freely available material for battery production. Their process is akin to beer-making in that they use a fast-growing fungus called Neurospora crasaa that is found thriving in the wastewater.

By cultivating their feedstock in the brewery waste, it allowed them to better manipulate the fungus' chemical and physical process from the start, explained Science Daily. The end result is one of today's most efficient, naturally-obtained lithium-ion battery, with the researchers simultaneously cleaning the wastewater in the process.

Win-Win Situation For Researchers And Beer Makers

"The wastewater is ideal for our fungus to flourish in, so we are happy to take it," Huggins said. Large scale application of the process may result in breweries significantly decreasing the cost of treating wastewater, while the researchers would gain an abundant amount of cost-effective materials needed in developing battery tech components.

The findings are so promising that Huggins and Justin Whiteley have already filed a patent for their research and started Emergy, a company that aims to monetize this remarkable discovery. They have also partnered with Avery Brewing in Boulder to explore possible pilot programs that would take advantage of the technology.

"We see large potential for scaling because there's nothing required in this process that isn't already available," said Huggins. Considering the creativity and resourcefulness that was exercised, it certainly is a rare and beautiful moment when beer and science work hand in hand.

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