It takes 6 to 8 gallons of water on average to make one gallon of beer. Worth it, you might say.
But a new pilot project is attempting to clean that wastewater and use it to brew more beer with a fuel cell that simultaneously generates electricity.
Widmer Brothers Brewing of Portland has stepped up to test out the concept, which was developed by the Corvallis start-up Waste2Watergy.
The fuel cell employs a secret combination of microbes that will consume organic material in the brewery’s wastewater and produce energy.
With a $150,000 grant from Oregon Built Environment & Sustainable Technologies (BEST), a 1-cubic meter version of the fuel cell will be installed at Widmer’s Portland brewery, where it is expected to treat 1,000 gallons of wastewater a day.
Julia Person, sustainability coordinator for Widmer Brothers, said she’s excited to see how it works.
“In the brewing industry, one of the main measuring sticks is the water usage ratio, or how much water is needed to make a gallon of beer,” she said. “If this technology can help us reduce our water usage ratio by cleaning our wastewater so we can reuse it, and in the process generate some electricity, it will be a real win.”
Widmer Brothers already has a pretty efficient water usage ratio of 4.2 gallons of water per gallon of beer. But it pays the city of Portland to treat its wastewater, so every recycled drop will help the company save money, as well as water.
The company also operates Red Hook Brewery in Seattle and Kona Brewery in Hawaii, where the new technology could also come in handy if it works out.
The fuel cell was developed by professor Hong Liu and researcher Yanzhen Fan in Oregon State University’s Department of Biological and Ecological Engineering. They’ve been working on it for years, but the Widmer pilot fuel cell will be the first one they’ve ever tested in the field. If it works and can be scaled up, it could save $400,000 a year.