About the only thing Boulderites like to flaunt as much as the city’s plethora of microbreweries is its interest in sustainability. Too bad then that the brewing process creates a butt-ton of carbon dioxide (approximately 100 tons for a 10,000 barrel-ayear brewery), which means that enjoying a nice barrel-aged porter like a boss also means contributing to climate change like a salaried worker.
But Daniel Higgs, a doctorate student in chemistry at the University of Colorado Boulder and CEO of Superior Ecotech, wants to do something about it. Where others might see a toxic chemical spewing into the air, he sees an opportunity.
“Algae can soak up two to three times their final weight in CO2,” says Higgs. “One kilogram of algae to grow to full weight can soak up two or three kilos of CO2.”
And that’s his plan: slap an algae greenhouse on top of a brewery to turn its waste into algae, which can then be turned into food products high in omega-3s.
Higgs and his team at Superior Ecotech won $100,000 from the Department of Energy-sponsored CU Cleantech New Venture Challenge, which gave them enough startup capital to go door-to-door here in Boulder, looking for a brewery that would bite.
“We got mostly, ‘We’ll get back in touch’-es,” says Higgs.
Only a handful actually did get back in touch though, and only one was able to follow through.
“We have made some decisions along the lines to be sustainable, and so it was pretty obvious to take on this project in my mind,” says Matt Cutter, founder of Upslope Brewing. “We’re able to lessen our carbon footprint and at the same time support these entrepreneurs with this really exciting project.”
Starting in fall, Superior Ecotech will be building an algae greenhouse on the roof of Upslope Brewing’s Flatiron Park location. Though its location will make it largely invisible to the average Upslopevisitor, Higgs says that Superior Ecotech would like to put a webcam on the roof so people can see what is happening in the greenhouse, and that feed will likely include some sort of gauge tracking the amount of carbon dioxide.
The plan was also selected as a finalist in the Boulder Energy Challenege, a grant program that solicited solutions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Boulder. If the pilot project at Upslope is successful, then Superior Ecotech would like to expand to other and larger breweries, and perhaps to ethanol production facilities, as the process of extracting sugar also creates a lot of carbon dioxide.
But beyond that it gets tricky, as not all carbon dioxide emissions are created equally. The thing that attracts Superior Ecotech to brewing is that the carbon dioxide emitted is clean, free of toxic elements like sulfur and heavy metals that make it no good for food. Unfortunately, those emissions comprise a larger portion of pollutants put into the air.
But Higgs says this still makes a difference.
“The way we kind of view it is that this source of CO2 emissions isn’t one that isn’t well known,” he says. “In order to mitigate emissions, you have to address it where you can. We’re not solving the whole problem, but we’re doing our bit.”