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From beer to batters: using wastewater to make energy

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Posted at 5:47 PM, Oct 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-11 18:47:01-04

It takes about seven barrels of water for every barrel of beer produced. Left over is thousands of gallons of wastewater, which ends up in a water treatment facility.

But what if there is a better option?

A group of doctorate-engineering students at the University of Colorado-Boulder believe they have found one: using it to grow a fungus that could help make lithium-ion batteries.

"Given that Colorado is a booming area for breweries we figure, man, this could be a good source," said Dr. Tyler Huggins, environmental engineer.

Dr. Huggins says the brewery wastewater is full of contaminants, sugars and complex carbohydrates, which is perfect to cultivate a fungus that can be transformed to create the carbon-based materials.

"We essentially put the fungus in there and here is an example of kind of the biomass that is produced. We dry it out and you get this really whatever structure you want. Then after you put in the oven you get this carbon structure there," said Dr. Huggins.

Mechanical engineer Dr. Justin Whiteley partnered with Huggins and says the materials can be used to make all kinds of lithium-ion batteries for phones, laptops even electric cars.

And it does so in a way that is more sustainable than the graphite currently being used.

"Not only do we create sustainable materials since we are creating our material from waste the cost is extremely low and so since we can bring down the cost to the carbon we can lower the entire price of the device," said Dr. Whiteley.

That could mean savings for you, but definitely savings for beer makers, manufacturers, cities, and the environment.

"This is the future of making new materials. This idea of self assembling and making very sophisticated structures without using a lot of energy and resources is where we all want to go," said Dr. Huggins.

A new reason to enjoy their favorite drink a little more.

The two researchers have started a company called Emergy, aimed at commercializing the technology.

They say they see large potential for scaling because there's nothing required in this process that isn't already available.

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