Brewing Energy from Beer Waste

Today I raise a glass to Cambrian Innovation, whose bioelectric EcoVolt uses wastewater from brewing and winemaking to produce energy and conserve water.

Space-Age Technology

Matt Silver, founder and CEO of Cambrian Innovation, is a NASA researcher who once aspired to be an astronaut. His EcoVolt uses the same basic technology that recycles waste products on the International Space Station. It’s essentially a fuel cell that uses wastewater as the fuel and a colony of microbes as a living, renewable catalyst.

One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure

Inside the EcoVolt, microorganisms eat the organics from wastewater, producing a small amount of electricity. The electricity flows through a circuit that produces methane, which is burned to generate heat. Clean water is a byproduct of the process.

Image courtesy of Cambrian Innovation

At the Bear Republic Brewing Company, that energy is used to heat the boilers and mash tuns, and to generate some of the electricity that the brewery uses. This is just one of many ways in which breweries are trying to reduce their carbon footprint. It’s not just environmentally responsible, it makes good financial sense too. The EcoVolt has reduced the brewery’s energy bill by 50%. And to top off the mug, so to speak, the process turns about 25% of the wastewater into water that’s clean enough to use in the chillers and as floor rinse water.

The EcoVolt is also employed at the Clos du Bois winery, saving that company over $200,000 every year and drastically reducing its carbon footprint. But the EcoVolt isn’t  limited to the potent potables industry; fisheries, farms, wastewater treatment facilities, and food processing plants can also benefit from this technology.

What’s Unique About It?

Biogas production isn’t exactly a new idea, but the EcoVolt’s innovative method allows it to be remotely monitored on the fly by measuring the reactions on the electrodes. Cambrian’s chief technology officer, Justin Buck, says that real-time monitoring allows automated controls to adjust flow rates and other parameters, which helps to ensure that the system is working optimally. Also, various biological catalysts can be used to digest different types of waste streams, making the EcoVolt adaptable to many applications.

See the EcoVolt brochure for detailed specifications. They don’t list prices, but Cambrian Innovation estimates that the EcoVolt will pay for itself in four years or less.

Waste Not, Want Not

Nature doesn’t recognize the word “waste” – everything in a natural ecosystem is recycled and kept in balance. The EcoVolt acknowledges this principle by taking what was once considered a waste product and using it to generate energy on site. It produces free energy, decreases the cost associated with removing a waste product, and reduces fuel consumption by eliminating the trucking needed to haul away the waste. I’ll drink to that!

Click here to see how the EcoVolt works. (Sorry – they won’t allow the video to be embedded.)