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Capturing Carbon For Sustainable Beer

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The sharp crack from opening a cold can of beer is enough to make your mouth water. It conjures up memories of sweet relief at the end of a long day, kicking your feet up and watching a good game, or celebrating the small victories in life with your close friends. That crack comes from the carbonation, and that thirst-quenching foam is one of the qualities that make beer so great. 

Even though CO2 is a natural byproduct of the fermentation process, most small craft breweries don’t have the equipment to capture the CO2 released. They rely on outside sources of CO2 to give their beers the crisp, satisfying bite of carbonation, but the main source of CO2 in the United States comes from burning fossil fuels or refining ethanol. Rhode Island’s Grey Sail Brewing is changing that by investing in the state’s first carbon recapture system and paving the way for sustainable brewing in Rhode Island.

The Flagship IPA is a staple of any great craft brewery. Photo courtesy of Grey Sail Brewing.

No matter how large or small, every brewery in the United States generates roughly three times as much CO2 as they need to carbonate their beers. While larger sustainable craft breweries, such as Alaskan Brewing, are equipped with massive CO2 reclamation equipment, the technology for smaller breweries has been fairly limited. Since transporting CO2 accounts for roughly 80 percent of its cost, a brewery that can reclaim the CO2 generated from the brewing process can significantly cut down the cost of brewing beer. Also, the recapture system could prevent hundreds of tons of CO2 from escaping into the atmosphere while excess CO2 can be bottled and sold as an additional revenue stream. 

For Grey Sail Brewing, protecting the environment is always at the forefront of their business decisions. When they learned about burgeoning technology for smaller-scale craft brewers that could save money and the environment, it was an easy investment.

The Grey Sail Taproom is a three-story Victorian house, complete with a beer garden. Photo courtesy of Grey Sail Brewing.

“We were looking for the fast return from the environmental perspective and a slower return on the financial lens,” Jennifer Brinton, co-founder of Grey Sail Brewing, shared with The Business Download. The carbon recapture system, built and installed by Earthly Labs, will reduce the brewery’s carbon dioxide output by the equivalent of 1500 trees a year, according to Brinton. Moreover, they’ve already seen savings applied to their CO2 bill. “Considering that this system was just installed in December, and I’m already seeing a bit of a financial impact. That’s pretty great,” Brinton said. 

Their carbon recapture system, CiCi, had an unexpected benefit as it has made the brewery more resilient during nationwide shortages of CO2. As a critical tool in hospitals and in preserving vaccines, CO2 was being rationed for breweries, and before they captured their carbon, Grey Sail was forced to close down production temporarily. However, by recapturing their own CO2, they are less dependent on outside materials and can stay open despite shortages. “It’s really hard for a small business like ours to make such a big capital investment, but we’ve actually seen the return,” Brinton shared. “If you could multiply that out and have these systems everywhere, what a tremendous benefit it would be.” 

The brewery’s location used to function as a macaroni factory well before the Brintons moved in. Photo courtesy of Grey Sail Brewing.

With Elon Musk offering over $100 million to “the best” carbon capture technology, and Bill Gates bankrolling cutting-edge carbon capture technology, more industries are looking for revolutionary ways to lighten their carbon footprint. Due to the bipartisan support of sweeping clean energy tax cuts and funding, carbon capture technology is gaining momentum across the country in both small and large business applications. 

The Covid Relief Act passed in late December included language that provides federal tax credits as well as funding for research and development of carbon capture throughout the country. Grey Sail is expecting to tap into some of these environmental tax credits, and they are working with their state government to help reduce the environmental impact of breweries. 

Rhode Island set the ambitious goal of reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2035, and one family-owned brewery is helping brew up the solution, one tasty beer at a time.


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