News Feature | November 11, 2016

Researchers Claim New Use For Brewery Wastewater

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Scientists say a recent breakthrough makes it possible to put brewery wastewater to good use.

A study from University of Colorado at Boulder researchers, published last month in the American Chemical Society journal Applied Materials & Interfaces, was able to achieve “sustainable carbon-based material manufacturing.” They used the organisms in brewery wastewater to create the materials, which are needed to make energy storage cells.

The upshot is that batteries can be made using the new process.

Here’s why that’s important, per a report from the university: “This unique pairing of breweries and batteries could set up a win-win opportunity by reducing expensive wastewater treatment costs for beer makers while providing manufacturers with a more cost-effective means of creating renewable, naturally-derived fuel cell technologies.”

Converting biological materials into carbon-based battery electrodes is already in practice in some industries, but it is rare to find naturally-occurring biological materials that are inexpensive to access.

“However, the Boulder researchers utilize the unsurpassed efficiency of biological systems to produce sophisticated structures and unique chemistries by cultivating a fast-growing fungus, Neurospora crassa, in the sugar-rich wastewater produced by a similarly fast-growing Colorado industry: breweries,” the report from the university said.

“By cultivating their feedstock in wastewater, the researchers were able to better dictate the fungus's chemical and physical processes from the start. They thereby created one of the most efficient naturally-derived lithium-ion battery electrodes known to date while cleaning the wastewater in the process,” the report said.

Tyler Huggins, lead author of the study, described why the significant wastewater output of the brewing industry makes this a meaningful finding.

"Breweries use about seven barrels of water for every barrel of beer produced," he said. "And they can't just dump it into the sewer because it requires extra filtration."

KUSA took a shot at deciphering the meaning of the discovery: “Hey, you,” the news outlet said. “You, sitting on your couch after work, drinking a beer, reading ... You are well on your way to helping our planet. No really. It's true. CU-Boulder told us so.”