Algae: Brewery Wastewater’s Second Chance

Algae: Brewery Wastewater’s Second Chance


Hi, my name’s Jake, and I have three passions in this world: sustainability, algae, and beer. And finding way to kind of smash
those three together for a research project took a long time but I was able
to figure it out. Breweries, on average, are producing about 10 gallons of wastewater for every gallon of beer that they produce and this wastewater’s extremely costly to treat. Wastewater streams from breweries are almost perfect for growing algae in; they have a lot of nitrogen and phosphorus in them already. So what I thought is if we could kind of tap those two things together, basically we can find a very cheap
nutrient source for the algae but also it would be a huge benefit for the brewery industry, which has a large wastewater problem. When I was looking for graduate schools I was looking at something that was related to sustainability or renewable energy. I found that Dr. Elena Litchman here at the Kellogg Biological Station had just received a really good grant looking at algae and how they can make biofuels from algae. So I applied to her lab. I’d already been doing research looking at how we can turn algae into biofuels and one of the
main limitations to doing that is actually finding fertilizer sources that
would be cheap enough to make this economical. I first started working with Bells when I was introduced to Walker Modic, who’s the sustainability specialist at Bells, by a professor here at KBS, Jen Lau. Bells is a tremendous place to work because they’re highly committed to solving some of the sustainability issues breweries face today. one of the main sustainability issues in
the brewing process is the amount of wastewater that breweries make to make beer, and so to address that issue, Bells built a wastewater treatment facility on site, which is actually where I ended up collecting my samples. After the brewing process, we just collect the water that’s kind of gone through the drains, and then ultimately we use that and we grow some algae in that wastewater, and so what we’re trying to find out is we’re looking at how much the algae is growing, and how much biofuel potential there is in that water with the algae growing, and then ultimately how much nitrogen and phosphorus is being removed from that water. The two main goals that we kind of sought out originally for the project were to address some of the sustainability concerns that were associated with brewing, especially with the craft industry on such a big rise right now, and then also finding a cheap source of fertilizer for our algal cultivation. So, what’s nice about this project is we were actually able to address both of those. We were able to identify that yes, algae can be grown in this wastewater stream, and they can grow quite well and they can produce quite a bit of the lipid content, or the biodiesel precursor, throughout this process. And then also, really importantly, is we can remove a lot of the nutrients from this wastewater source just by simply growing algae in it, so we don’t have to treat it by any means, we can just generate biomass that is used for a secondary product, like the biofuel, and then also, in a way, remediate this wastewater at really little economic cost. Future plans for this summer are to think about how we can make this technology even better, so how we can use the green algae that we identified in our first experiment to kind of clean the wastewater up to a certain point, but then also use a secondary source of algae to kind of finish off the polishing stage of the wastewater cleaning as well. So we’re thinking about doing this two-stage approach of looking at using green algae and cyanobacteria, kind of coupled together, in like a cascading effect to kind of clean the wastewater. So there’s kind of a – it’s a win-win for both sides. We get algae, we get some biofuel, and we also are cleaning the water.

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