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Souped Up Biogas System Turns Brewery Into Green Powerhouse

The Bear Republic Brewing Company in Cloverdale, California is the first brewery to sign onto a new brewery waste-to-biogas system that has some A-list credentials to its credit. The system, called EcoVolt, is the creation of Cambrian Innovation, an MIT spinoff created in 2006 to commercialize a new class of electricity-generating microbes.

Development of the EcoVolt system was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation under its Small Business Innovation Research program.

From Brewery Waste to Renewable Biogas

We’ve covered brewery waste reclamation before and we’ve covered wastewater-to-energy more times than we can count (here, here, and here for starters), but Cambrian Innovation is new on our radar so let’s take a look under the EcoVolt hood.

To cut straight to the mustard. According to Cambrian, Bear Republic can expect to get an annual return on investment of more than 25 percent by switching from conventional wastewater treatment to the EcoVolt system.

If you think that’s rather high, consider that the EcoVolt system will replace about half of the brewery’s baseload electricity use with reclaimed heat and electricity. It will also provide enough recycled water to replace about 10 percent of the brewery’s water consumption.

The system is based on electromethanogenesis, which refers to the ability of certain bacteria to release electrons as they eat. The feasting takes place in a bio-electrochemical reactor, where the electrons travel through a circuit to generate methane gas.

The methane is pure enough to run an engine (post updated for correction; earlier tests included a small amount of natural gas but that is not needed for the brewery system).


Aside from directly saving money on heat and electricity, the system also enables breweries (and wineries, for that matter), to eliminate the use of relatively large aeration ponds for wastewater treatment. EcoVolt is a modular system that fits in a shipping container, providing more options for site selection and facility expansion.

As for cutting down on water consumption, that’s a timely advantage for a California brewery.  Governor Jerry Brown has just called a drought state of emergency, adding yet another chapter to the long and complicated history of California water policies.

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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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