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CU researchers turn beer wastewater into better battery

BOULDER, Colo. -- They’re turning wastewater from brewing beer into something you find in your cell phones and lap tops.

You don’t think of beer as powering anything more than your courage.

But thanks to some CU engineers, that’s about to change.

They have created a new energy source that’s cheaper--and much more friendly to Mother Earth.

We’ve always known the value of beer: it’s refreshing, social and takes the edge off.

But, who would have thought enjoying a tall, cool one could change the face of the battery industry?

“This could be game-changing,” said CU researcher and engineer Justin Whiteley, 28. “We’re looking to replace the unsustainable materials that are in our batteries right now--mainly being graphite. Graphite is mined in the ground, mostly in China.”

Whiteley and his partner, Tyler Huggins, 31, will replace graphite with organic material they made in the lab.

“We’ve found one of the best sources to use is actually brewery wastewater,” Huggins said.

It started with beer wastewater from Avery Brewing in north Boulder.

“Within this wastewater, we have things like nutrients, and energy that can be extracted from it,” Huggins said.

Then, they added a fast-growing fungus, Neurospora crassa.

That fungus grew into a big mass they dried out, then baked.

“Out pops this carbon, and that goes right into the battery, that will be one-half of your lithium-ion battery,” said Whiteley.

The engineers said this new material is not only more sustainable, but less expensive to create and the fungus naturally cleans the wastewater--saving brewers cleanup costs.

“Right now we call it wastewater and we put a ton of energy into cleaning it. But what we want to do in the future and as environmental engineers, we hope to extract value from the process,” said Huggins.

And you beer drinkers are also a part of the solution with each swig.

“Seven gallons of water is used to make one gallon of beer produced. They are more than doing their part,” Whiteley said with a smile.

The two researchers have filed a patent on the process and are also exploring using it in other areas, like water and gas filtration.

They’re also working with Avery Brewing to launch a larger pilot program.

You can read about their findings in the American Chemical Society journal Applied Materials & Interfaces.”