Colorado Pilot Program Repurposes CO2 From Fermentation for Use in Cannabis Growth

With the help of technology from Austin, Texas-based Earthly Labs, the Denver Beer Company is launching a program to share the excess carbon dioxide produced during fermentation with the Clinic, a cannabis company, to stimulate marijuana plant growth.

The exchange is part of the Carbon Dioxide Reuse Pilot Project, a pilot program announced by Gov. Jared Polis last week and spearheaded by the Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).

“We are committed to taking the necessary steps to improve our air quality and reduce harmful emissions,” Gov. Jared Polis said in a press release. “These pilot programs combine a few of the things that Colorado is known for: environmental responsibility, craft beer, and cannabis.

In the release, Polis also announced the launch of the Colorado Cultivators Energy Management Pilot Program through the Colorado Energy Office. The program will offer free energy use assessments to cannabis cultivators and free resources to rural energy cooperatives seeking to develop long-term relationships with growers.

Denver Beer Company estimates it can capture 100,000 pounds of carbon dioxide annually, which would normally be released into the atmosphere from tanks through vents. Instead, the Clinic can use the gas to grow plants in a shorter time and with better yields. The Clinic had been purchasing carbon dioxide from power plants and trucking it across the state, according to the release.

“Denver Beer Co. is proud to work with The Clinic and Earthly Labs in pioneering this new exchange market. This innovative technology will greatly reduce our carbon emissions and carbon footprint,” Denver Beer Company co-founder Charlie Berger said in the release. “At Denver Beer Co., we believe in the importance of environmental stewardship. We have one planet and we believe it is our corporate and social responsibility to help conserve and protect our resources.”

Denver Beer Company has made environmentally friendly brewing practices a hallmark of its brand and runs entirely on solar power, public relations director Diana Crawford told Brewbound in an email.

“We have a 40,000 sq ft solar array on top of our building which means that our entire production facility is run on clean energy,” she said. “In fact, we often generate excess energy to put back on the grid.”

The carbon dioxide is captured using Earthly Labs’ CiCi machine, “a plug-n-play carbon capture solution, efficiently transforms a mixed CO2 gas waste stream into beverage grade liquid CO2 for instant reuse,” according to the company’s website.

The company’s founder and CEO, Amy George, is an MBA graduate from the University of Texas with a focus on entrepreneurship and environmental management. Before founding Earthly Labs, she worked on sustainability software at a company whose clients included BP and Nestle. She had originally planned to work on a carbon capture product for in-home use, but her friends at Austin Beer Garden Brewing and (512) Brewing convinced her to shift to the beer industry, where carbon dioxide is used daily.

CDPHE employees approached George during the Brewers Association’s annual Craft Brewers Conference in Denver last year to pitch a pilot program to improve environmental sustainability practices for small businesses.

“Their small business division has a focus area on making the craft brewing and cannabis industries more sustainable with a focus on on CO2 emissions,” George told Brewbound. “They had not considered carbon capture because it had not existed before they met us.”

Earthly Labs had been working closely with craft brewers in its home city of Austin, Texas, but George had not considered the impact reused carbon dioxide could have in the cannabis industry.

“We spent some time with their help in assessing the growers’ needs because we understood well the craft brewers needs, but we didn’t know how the two industries might work together and how to make it financially beneficial for both parties” George said.

Brewers’ uses for carbon dioxide run the gamut from carbonation for packaging to cleaning out pipes to serving beer in their taprooms. The gas costs anywhere from 26 cents to $2 per pound, George said. If a brewery captures 100,000 pounds for reuse, it can save $24,000 to $200,000 annually on gas costs.

Adam DeBower, co-founder and co-owner of Earthy Labs’ early partner Austin Beerworks, said that the carbon dioxide his brewery has captured gas with “fewer impurities” that the gas it had been getting previously from an oil-driven energy company.

“The CO2 coming through the machine is better than what we can buy on the open market,” he told Brewbound.

Austin Beerworks has used Earthly Labs’ technology since last year, first signing on to use a prototype and later purchasing a machine of their own. The craft brewery first used captured carbon dioxide to carbonate a beer it brewed for the Texas Craft Brewers Guild annual meeting in 2019.

“It’s been a really fun partnership in that we’ve been able to be at the leading edge of new technology that helps us make better beer,” DeBower said. “We’ve got our system set up so that we will be able to use that reclaimed CO2 in every one of our operations: purging out our pipework and hoses, carbonating beer, running our keg line, pretty much anything and everything.”

DeBower and his team have provided feedback to Earthly Labs that has resulted in user-friendly upgrades to the technology and helped establish standard operating guidelines.

“They operate more like our live lab, because we do not have a brewery,” George said. “Because they have continuous production all the time, they’re a perfect fit for that.”

Breweries often create more carbon dioxide during fermentation than they need for other uses. For example, Austin Beerworks generates about 250,000 pounds annually, but only uses about 150,000 pounds. The Colorado pilot between Denver Beer Company and the Clinic aims to repurpose the gas in other industries.

“We are figuring out those details with this pilot so that we can enable more breweries to become resellers of what they capture and we’re providing enablement tools in terms of software and quick connections so that it makes it super easy for them to do,” George said. “The exciting thing is, even in non-cannabis states, many breweries have pilot taprooms that also use CO2 and many times that CO2 is at a premium, compared to the big bulk tanks. There’s a lot of ways that breweries can save money and/or become resellers of their own CO2.”

CiCi’s technology is available in the Oak, a model which can capture carbon dioxide for breweries producing between 5,000 and 20,000 barrels annually, and the Teak, which is for breweries making fewer than 5,000 barrels. Base level models start at $75,000 and can go up to $100,000 with optional additions. George said it was important to make the CiCi affordable.

“What I’ve come to appreciate in developing the prototype and testing it with a half a dozen breweries here in Austin, of which Austin Beerworks was one, is that the industry is so innovative and receptive to new ideas and really sustainable-leaning,” she said. “If it’s the right thing to do and they can afford it, oftentimes, it seems to me, they do. They lean in to figure it out, so it’s been just a great place to innovate and pioneer a whole new technology class.”

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