In a large warehouse across from the South Platte River, Denver Beer Co. is busy brewing 20,000 barrels of beer each year. All that fermentation produces both alcohol and carbon dioxide, a climate-changing greenhouse gas. The brewery used to let their CO2 fizz up and out of their beer and into the air, but now, co-owner Charlie Berger explains an alternative approach: “new technology allows us to hook a hose up to this fermentation tank and put it through a dryer, a filter, and a compressor. It creates a liquid gas that we can actually use.”
With carbon capture technology from Austin-based Earthly Labs, Denver Beer Co. is projected to capture 100,000 pounds of carbon dioxide annually. Considering the challenge COVID-19 has posed to the CO2 supply chain, this small-scale effort could have a big impact if leveraged properly. Back in February, the state of Colorado unveiled the Carbon Dioxide Reuse Pilot Project, a pilot program spearheaded by Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment. The program encourages craft breweries to capture their own carbon dioxide, sell what they don’t need, and keep it local. Brewers use carbon dioxide for carbonation in packaging, cleaning out pipes and serving beer. Costing anywhere from 26 cents to $2 per pound, a brewery capturing 100,000 pounds for reuse could save $24,000 to $200,000 on annual CO2 costs.
While beer is a big deal in Colorado, so is the growing cannabis market and it turns out dispensaries need carbon dioxide too. In another warehouse down the street from Denver Beer Co., The Clinic had been purchasing carbon dioxide from power plants and trucking it across the state to grow plants faster with larger yields. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment connected the brewery with the dispensary and Denver Beer Co. became the first business to have a buyer for its CO2. “The really good thing about this project is that Denver Beer Company is only eight miles away,” said Brian Cusworth, director of operations at The Clinic. “So the transportation footprint has been reduced dramatically as well.”
Meanwhile, in Austin, Earthly Labs is working to scale down their carbon-capturing machines, already available for large beer operations, to make the practice affordable for microbreweries. Beer and cannabis companies from all over are asking how they can do what Denver Beer Co. and The Clinic have done with their symbiotic partnership. Earthly Lab’s CEO Amy George says about two dozen breweries across the country have adopted their carbon capture technology, and wineries and distilleries are now reaching out.
For the Colorado pilot program, The Clinic runs trials by pumping the two different CO2 sources into separate grow rooms. They test soil, water and yields to make sure there’s no negative impact on their product. The state also keeps track of how much CO2 is produced, to ensure the brewery continues to sustain its own needs, while consistently supplying the cannabis operation. At the Denver Beer Co., they’re enjoying an unanticipated reward for all their hard work. The beer tastes better. Berger calls this an added bonus — the real reason they started capturing carbon dioxide was to make good use of a waste stream. In the grand scheme of things, these small businesses don’t have a big impact on Colorado’s CO2 emissions. However, among other small enterprises in the state, breweries do emit a larger share of CO2 and as Colorado maintains its commitment to reducing greenhouse gas in a massive way, every little move makes a difference.