A Sydney craft brewery has found a solution lurking in Australia’s rivers that could neutralize some of the industry’s carbon dioxide emissions.
Making beer is a carbon intensive process. The CO2 produced by yeast during fermentation to make just one six pack of beer would take a tree two days to absorb. Young Henrys, in conjunction with a local university, is trialling a process to feed the greenhouse gas into tanks of a river algae native to Australia that turn the CO2 back into oxygen.
“You have this really amazing yin and yang scenario,” said Oscar McMahon, Young Henrys co-founder, in a phone interview. “One tank of algae is capable of creating the equivalent amount of oxygen as one hectare of Australian bush. It takes a long time to grow that, whereas we can grow a tank of algae within weeks.”
Brewers worldwide have begun to take their environmental impact more seriously. Carlsberg A/S built its first carbon-neutral brewery at Falkenberg in Sweden, with more than a quarter of the plant’s energy coming from biogas generated by wastewater. Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, maker of Budweiser, is buying more power from wind and solar farms as part of a plan to run entirely on clean energy by 2025.
Read: AB InBev Buys Enough Wind to Brew 20 Billion Beers
The Young Henrys project is in its early stages, but McMahon is confident that it could be scaled up for bigger breweries. The technology might also be adapted to manage emissions in other industries such as mining or chemical manufacturing.
While the algae is kept separate from the beer during fermentation, McMahon and his team are experimenting with using it to add color and flavor to the beverage, and plans to introduce special edition batches in the months ahead.
The brewery stores the algae in 400 liter tanks, called bio-reactors. With the algae reproducing rapidly, McMahon is exploring a range of options for how to use the excess, including use as a food supplement, fertilizer or as an input in plastics manufacture.
Other companies and research groups have worked on using algae to battle climate change, from Exxon Mobil Corp.’s efforts to create algae-based biofuel to biotech startups such as Helios-NRG at the University of Buffalo. Most are based on making the technology commercially viable by producing a salable product, such as Houston-based Iwi Life’s nutritional drinks, or by helping store the carbon as a soil additive.
McMahon is not expecting to make huge profits on his algae investment, but has his eye on a bigger prize.
“If Young Henrys can be remembered for changing something in our industry, and allowing other brewers to reduce their carbon emissions as well as our own, that would be really special.”