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Something Big Is Brewing: New Tech Helps Brewers Capture Carbon, Create Beer Out of Thin Air

Image Credit: Good Beer Hunting

Brewers across the country are embracing new technology to tackle some of the industry’s most pressing sustainability challenges: emissions and water.

References to carbon capture are often reserved for discussions of power plants and coal, but the process could hold promise for the recovery of CO2 at craft breweries. Engineers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California have developed a technique to filter CO2 from power plants that could help breweries cut costs and reduce their CO2 emissions. 

While participating in the Department of Energy’s Energy I-Corps, an intensive eight-week entrepreneurial boot camp that teaches scientists and engineers how to bring their energy technologies to market, Congwang Ye and Lionel Keene, the creators of a reusable microcapsule that can rapidly absorb CO2, was inspired to apply his technology to the beer industry. Energy I-Corps was held in Golden, Colorado, the home of Coors Brewing Company and part of the Denver metro area, which boasts over 200 microbreweries. 

In a meeting with Coors, Ye and Keene learned that during the fermentation process, breweries produce three times the amount of carbon dioxide needed for carbonization and packaging. Coors itself generates around 300 million pounds of carbon dioxide per year during fermentation, but only requires 80 million pounds, most of which it purchases through suppliers. What’s more, 80 percent of the cost of purchasing CO2 comes in transportation. Ye and Keene saw an opportunity — if breweries captured and reused CO2 using the microcapsules, they could essentially become self-sustaining and generate an additional source of income by selling excess CO2.

Ye and Keene proposed to start small and contacted craft breweries, presenting them with a special propane tank model, which captures CO2 from the fermentation gas using barrels filled with millions of gas-permeable polymer microcapsules that contain sodium carbonate. The barrels would then be collected and sent to a CO2 supplier to have the carbon dioxide extracted, with a portion of the reclaimed gas being sold back to brewers at a big discount. According to Keene, the idea could save brewers tens of thousands of dollars a year. 

The next steps for the team will be to develop an initial proof-of-concept, which will be installed at the University of California, Davis’ pilot winery and brewery. They will also continue its research by performing more fermentation-related carbon capture studies. 

“We would like to mature the idea with early evangelists and small breweries so that we can eventually utilize it at the regional breweries, power plants and other carbon emission sources,” Ye said.


Meanwhile, San Diego-based Ballast Point Brewing Co. could set a new precedent for beer production by partnering with Ambient Water, a provider of atmospheric water-generation systems, to extract water from humidity in the air for use in beer production. Several other San Diego brewers are also following suit.

“Water is obviously a key ingredient to the beer brewing process, so this is intriguing for us. The AW400 generates clean and exceptionally pure water, making it a great water source for brewers and the perfect canvas for exploring new styles and flavors,” said Julia Cain, Director of Research and Development at Ballast Point. “Utilizing Ambient Water’s atmospheric water generators could provide us with the water we need while bolstering our precious water supply. Plus, it’s a great story to tell people they are drinking beer with natural condensation in it. Unique stories like that are what craft beer is all about.”

One of the biggest draws to Ambient Water’s technology is the purity of the resulting water. Water from an Ambient Water atmospheric water generator only has 7 PPM, as compared to water from the City of San Diego, which has 700 PPM. Water constitutes 90–95 percent of beer and there is a considerable opportunity for a sustainable source to produce pure water, particularly in regions plagued by drought

“We’re very excited about this unique opportunity to work with these great breweries and further showcase the purity and clean taste of the water produced by our atmospheric water generators,” said Keith White, CEO of Ambient Water. “Breweries, especially those producing craft, are seeking a sustainable water source that is not only cost-efficient, but also pure, allowing the brewer to manipulate taste specific to the beer they are creating. We believe this partnership will open doors for us within the market and allow for us to bring value back to our shareholders.”


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