New Carbon Capture Technology Could Help Microbreweries Recycle CO2 & Cut Costs

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©. John Vericella/LLNL

A technology developed at a national lab for improving carbon capture at power plants may be able to help craft breweries capture and reuse CO2 from their fermentation processes, while also slashing costs.

Power plants and breweries don't seem like they have much in common, except for maybe the fact that one produces the electricity to run the other, but they do share at least one issue, which is CO2 emissions. And they may also be sharing a common technology for mitigating CO2 in the near future, thanks to the work of researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), who have developed a carbon capture technique that could help microbreweries cut their costs and their CO2 emissions.

Breweries produce three times as much CO2 as they need for use in carbonation and bottling, just through the natural process of fermentation, and while larger breweries may be able to afford the purchase of CO2 reclamation systems, craft breweries often aren't in the position to do so. And just because a brewery captures the CO2 from fermentation doesn't mean that it recycles it into the final product, as LLNL researchers found out in a meeting with Coors Brewing Company:

"Coors, for example, generates roughly 300 million pounds of carbon dioxide per year during the fermentation steps, but only needs 80 million pounds, most of which is currently purchased through suppliers." - LLNL

One consequence of having to purchase CO2 instead of reusing it is the cost, of which some 80% is due to transportation of the gas, and if breweries could capture and reuse some of their CO2 for use in carbonation and packaging, and then sell the rest to other industries, they could in essence be operating a self-sustaining CO2 cycle while also profiting from their excess carbon dioxide emissions. That's where the carbon capture technology from LLNL comes into play, because it enables an efficient and eco-friendly CO2 reclamation process based on a common and low-cost material -- baking soda.

The researchers' method employs gas-permeable polymer microcapsules that contain sodium carbonate, which can both absorb CO2 efficiently and hold onto it until it is released using heat, and these encapsulated baking soda droplets "can be reused forever" without degradation of the base material. This could allow breweries to capture CO2 emissions in a cost-effective manner, after which the capture tanks would be sent to have the carbon dioxide extracted from the microcapsules by a CO2 supplier, with some of the reclaimed gas going back to the brewery for its use.

"We want to adapt this technology for capturing CO2 in breweries as a way to reduce CO2 emissions to the atmosphere and cut their purchase costs by up to 75 percent. It will be more environmentally friendly, and not only will it save on costs, but they also can create revenue by selling the excess." - Congwang Ye, LLNL engineer and principal investigator for the MECS (Micro-Encapsulated CO2 Sorbents) team

According to the Department of Energy, the next step for the team is to construct a proof-of-concept installation, which appears to be in the works at a University of California - Davis pilot winery and brewery. The team will also continue its research through the running of additional 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

For those curious about this novel carbon capture technique, the original study was published a few years ago in the journal Nature, under the title Encapsulated liquid sorbents for carbon dioxide capture.