There is a lot of talk about CO2 shortages these days and brewers are thinking about next steps, the supply chain, or adding equipment to their breweries that can help mitigate shortfalls.
Beer Edge editor John Holl spoke with Lindsey Cole, who directs Food and Beverage solutions at FuelCell Energy, a company that manufacturers equipment that can recycle CO2 about the technology, and benefits.
We Make It Work Better – It’s not just a tag line; it’s a commitment we make to provide unparalleled service and quality parts through every phase of our customer relationship. In addition our Newell Automation team develops full process control systems.
John Holl: A lot of brewers might be familiar with the term CO2 capturing, but not necessarily know how the machines work or their benefit. Can you give us a view from 30k feet on the machines and why breweries should be considering them for their brewhouse?
Lindsey Cole: Fuel cell power plants let breweries produce clean power and recycle CO2 into a valuable product. FuelCell Energy’s carbonate fuel cell power plants can run on natural gas or biogas to produce electricity, heat, water, and CO2. Food and beverage manufacturers around the world have used fuel cell plants, but some breweries have even “harnessed beer power” by fueling their power plants with a waste byproduct of their brewing process—using a combination of natural gas and anaerobic digester gas (ADG).
Fuel cells use an electrochemical process to convert hydrogen-rich fuels into electrical power and heat. Inside the fuel cell, methane is steam-reformed at 600 degrees Celsius and converted into hydrogen and CO2. The fuel cell produces electricity, heat, water, and CO2, which can be exhausted or captured to be recycled into a valuable end-product. Fossil fuel emissions from industrial plants contain concentrations of CO2. When delivering those exhaust streams into the fuel cell’s air intake (cathode), the CO2 is electrochemically pumped to the fuel electrodes (anode). This increases the concentration of CO2 available to be recycled for industrial use.
John Holl: Are these machines best suited for a brewery of a certain size? if so what’s the threshold?
Lindsey Cole: An ideal “fit” for a fuel cell in this application is usually determined by a minimum appetite of 1.4 MW of power and 10 tons of CO2 needed per day. Typically, those thresholds are ideal for mid-sized and large-scale breweries, but we encourage everyone to approach us for partnerships. In some instances, a cluster of micro-breweries or small businesses cooperating locally could make the project viable.
Our fuel cell plants can be configured as microgrids, supplying power to the grid during normal operation and islanding to provide power in the event of a disturbance. One of our fuel cell microgrids in Woodbridge, Connecticut provides power to a local high school and other nearby buildings. During power outages, the fuel cell switches to microgrid mode to provide reliable and uninterrupted power to seven critical town facilities.
John Holl: How would you rate the current state of co2 supplies in America and where do you see them heading?
Lindsey Cole: Early in the pandemic, the CO2 shortage was felt throughout the food supply chain, even forcing some breweries to shut down in the United States. CO2 can be captured as a byproduct of ethanol and fertilizer production. The supply of CO2 may shrink whenever ethanol and fertilizer plants lower production capacity, which has been a trend for the past few years. We have an optimistic vision of the future of the CO2 supply chain, where it will be increasingly available as a byproduct of fuel cell applications.
John Holl: What are the long-term benefits to CO2 recapturing machines? Is there any noticeable flavor benefit to using recaptured CO2?
Lindsey Cole: Increasing a site’s energy resilience is an immediate benefit that will continue to produce long-term results. Fuel cells produce reliable onsite power and let breweries maximize production uptime by avoiding costly outages. For brewery’s looking to achieve sustainability goals, the fuel cell’s chemical reaction is virtually free of NOx, SOx, and particulate matter emissions.
Forward thinking breweries can generate a reliable CO2 supply on-site and avoid unexpected price spikes and disruptions by moving to fuel cell technology. By bringing the production of CO2 in-house, breweries can reduce the continued cost of a raw production material. In some cases, large-scale breweries might even sell their excess CO2.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.