Beer to Fuel

Small system converts beer to ethanol

A residential system intended to make fuel from old beer, leftover wine and other waste products and use it to run their vehicles could also be efficient for brewpubs and small breweries. Currently two breweries in San Diego are contracting with the company to dispose of spent yeast and beer.

The $10,000 E-Fuel MicroFueler consists of a 250-gallon tank for organic feedstock, such as waste wine and beer, and a still that converts it to pure ethanol, or E-Fuel. The still doubles as a fuel pump, which works similarly to those at gas stations. The only waste product is distilled water.

So far, only one MicroFueler is up and running. It was installed in late June at the Pacific Palisades home of Chris Ursitti, CEO of GreenHouse International Inc., the San Diego firm that is distributing the units and supplying feedstock to those who install MicroFuelers at their homes.

GreenHouse has contracts with Karl Strauss Brewing Co., Gordon Biersch Brewing Co. and Sunny Delight Beverages Co. to convert 29,000 tons of their liquid waste using MicroFuelers.

MicroFueler is most effective with wastes that are high in alcohol making this a good candidate for small brewers as a way to dispose excess or old beer from the brewing process. Ethanol can also be “made out of any waste — lawn clippings, dairy products, old chemicals, cardboard, paper, bruised and discarded apples from the grocery store. It can be fermented and turned into fuel in minutes,” Quinn said.

Though Ursitti is the only one now using the system, the plan is for a tanker truck to pick up the companies’ waste and deliver it to home-based MicroFuelers, which convert it to ethanol on site. MicroFueler owners are charged $2 a gallon once they pump out the fuel.

“What they need, we have. What we need, they have,” said Karl Strauss CEO Chris Cramer, referring to his San Diego company’s symbiotic relationship with GreenHouse, for which no money is changing hands.

Before entering the feedstock pilot program with GreenHouse, Karl Strauss took care of all its beer-brewing waste products by paying outside companies to destroy beer that had passed its freshness date and farmers who fed the spent brewing grains to their pigs. Now GreenHouse is using expired beer.

“Because we’re a fairly large craft brewer, there’s a lot of yeast, a lot of beer going around,” Cramer said. “Any drops of beer that don’t go into a bottle, we’d like to make ethanol and fuel vehicles.”

Converting expired beer and other liquid wastes into cellulosic ethanol takes minutes and uses three kilowatt-hours of electricity to produce one gallon of fuel.

In addition to powering vehicles, the fuel could run a “gridbuster,” or home generator, which produces 23 kilowatt-hours of electricity per gallon, GreenHouse said.