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Upslope repurposing beer’s CO2 for algae

October 30, 2016

Boom Algae

Boom Algae, formerly Superior Ecotech, of Boulder, Colorado, converts waste CO2 from the brewing process into algae for its deep green pigment to be used by the Fort Collins startup Living Ink, which runs an algae-ink printing press.

Haley Gray reports for that Upslope Brewing Company, in Boulder, Colorado, is one step closer to its goal of becoming a zero-waste brewery. The craft beer maker has partnered with Boom Algae, a Boulder startup that repurposes the CO2 – a byproduct released in the brewing process – as food for algae.

You may recall Boom Algae from a 2015 story, where the company planned to build a greenhouse project at Upslope – a plan that was eventually abandoned due to difficulty obtaining construction permits.

Boom Algae’s new strategy, producing algae that will eventually become biodegradable ink, can be carried out on a small scale within the brewery, without the building code hurdles.

When yeast eats sugar during the process of fermentation, there are actually two end-products: a molecule of alcohol and a molecule of carbon dioxide. Upslope fitted its fermentation tanks with a mechanism that transfers excess CO2 to a separate tank filled with rinse water captured from the brewery’s canning line. That’s where the synechocystis, a type of fresh water algae, comes in. The singled-celled organism thrives when surrounded by much higher levels of CO2 than are found in breathable air. It absorbs the gas, water, sunshine, and a few other nutrients and in turn grows lots of new cells.

Those cells are loaded with deep green pigment, which happens to be perfect for creating biodegradable ink. Boom Algae sells the residual pigment to the Fort Collins startup Living Ink, which runs an algae-ink printing press. It’s a win-win-win-win: The atmosphere is spared the harmful CO2 emissions, the algae is thriving, and two sustainability-minded local startups are in business.

As for Upslope, the team members might be sleeping a little better at night knowing they’ve traded CO2 emissions for sustainably produced ink, but they’re not making a dime in the process. For the brewery, this endeavor is about doing the right thing rather than making money. “Whenever we can pursue something to reduce our footprint, we go after it,” Upslope co-owner Matt Cutter says.

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