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Is Ethanol the New Home Brew? Karl Strauss to Recycle its Suds

If burping cows are significant contributors to global warming, will those of us who let out the occasional lager-laden belch after downing a few cold ones soon be subject to EPA regulations?

Not to worry. Anyone suffering from gastro-intestinal beer consumption guilt will be relieved to learn that Karl Strauss Brewing and Greenhouse Energy are determined to cut down on global beer gasses.The San Diego-based companies have announced a "green partnership" to turn yeast and other brewing byproducts into green fuel alternatives.

According to Karl Strauss Quality Control Manager Shawn Steele, the idea to join forces started as a friendly neighborhood chat. "Greenhouse literally set up shop right down the street from us," he says. "For breweries, this is a no brainer. We're getting rid of waste that we'd usually have to pay to get rid of, and we get to use the fuel."

The New Filling Station
The New Filling Station
Karl Strauss

Here's how it works. Greenhouse's home ethanol-making device, called an E-Fuel MicroFueler, converts biological waste that contains sugar--such as the yeast leftover from the brewing process--into ethanol. Karl Strauss will be handing over several tons of beer waste a month to Greenhouse, which in turn will dispose of the waste free of charge and return a portion of the resulting ethanol to the brewery for use in its delivery vehicles.

Due to the quantity of yeast involved, the bulk of Karl Strauss' waste will be converted to ethanol at the Greenhouse processing plant. Leftover yeast will be pumped directly from the fermenting tanks into an awaiting Greenhouse truck. For smaller jobs, the brewery will use the company's home ethanol pump station. "We're getting one of the home units that's about the size of a refrigerator so we can toss smaller stuff in ourselves," says Steele. "You just put in the feed stock, the machine converts it, and you pump it directly into a vehicle."

Larger breweries such as Molson Coors have been converting their waste into ethanol for more than ten years. Other mid-sized California breweries, such as Sierra Nevada, have also recently struck up deals to "donate" their waste in return for fuel. "At smaller breweries it hasn't been financially feasible to do this until now," says Steele.

Karl Strauss, the first San Diego brewery to hit the craft beer market in 1989, isn't exactly a small microbrewery anymore. Today, the brewery distributes its nearly three dozen beers to 2,500 bars and restaurants and owns six namesake Southern California brewery restaurants. And at $10,000 a pop, that smaller home MicroFueler is still out of most craft breweries' price range (although those who purchase the MicroFueler may soon be eligible for substantial tax rebates).

Steele says Greenhouse is primarily disposing of brewing yeast, but the occasional faulty ale will also be fed to the MicroFueler. "We have a tight quality control program, so say something like the color of a lager we brew is off. We'd normally have to pay to put that down the drain. Now we can distill it."

"Distilling" is the operative word here. "The unit uses electricity and boils whatever you put in it, so the ethanol comes off as steam," explains Steele. "Distilling is essentially the same process." An ethanol martini, anyone?

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