Beer! Space! Water Conservation?

This is America and we love our beer. But along with all the hoppy goodness comes leftover wastewater. In fact, the brewing process can yield up to 4 times as much wastewater as beer, not to mention 5-7 times as much wastewater as wine. About 3-4% of our energy demand in the US stems from wastewater treatment, according to the EPA. Cambrian Innovation, a Boston-based company, looked at these problems and saw breweries and wineries as the natural launching pad for their Ecovolt technology, a treatment system that doesn’t just save water, it can produce electricity.

Cambrian Innovation Co-founder Matt Silver has a Ph.D. from MIT and a master's in Aerospace Engineering. He turned his NASA research on life support systems for space stations into the Ecovolt system, Cambrian’s sustainable water treatment machine. The system uses living, electrically active microbes to naturally convert carbon dioxide and electricity into methane, which is then used to produce electricity and heat. A typical installation can create 30-200 kW of power, enough to cover more than 50% of the baseload electricity use for a local brewery like Sonoma County’s Bear Republic Brewery.

Sonoma County recently took on a commitment to become the nation’s first 100% sustainable wine region by the end of the decade. Cambrian has sold its systems to other breweries and wineries in the region, saving thousands of dollars (and significant greenhouse gas emissions) that would have been spent shipping the wastewater to treatment facilities. The Guardian reported the Lagunitas Brewery outside San Francisco bought two systems for $3.5 million. The energy and water savings add up to a 3-5 year return on investment, according to Cambrian’s estimates.

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