Researchers from Colorado have teamed up with Boulder-based Avery Brewing to develop a essential battery part using wastewater that is the by-product of beer production. According to the scientists, the ingenious bio-manufacturing technique relies on living organisms present in brewery wastewater to generate specific carbon-based materials that are in turn used to create energy storage cells. Speaking about the research, which was funded by the Office of Naval Research, Tyler Huggins of the University of Colorado Boulder’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering said:
Breweries use about seven barrels of water for every barrel of beer produced. And they can’t just dump it into the sewer because it requires extra filtration.
In addition to lowering the costs associated with wastewater treatment for beer makers, the innovative technology gives rise to an efficient, cost-effective method of manufacturing naturally-sourced, renewable battery. Although the technique of turning biomass into carbon-based electrodes has been around for some time, it was quite limited in its scope and usage until now, mainly due to short supply, high costs and difficult of extraction. To solve these problems, the scientists turned towards a fast-growing fungus Neurospora crass, cultivating it in the brewery wastewater which is usually high in sugar. Huggins added:
The wastewater is ideal for our fungus to flourish in, so we are happy to take it… We see large potential for scaling because there’s nothing required in this process that isn’t already available.
This approach allowed the team to closely control and manipulate the fungi’s chemical and physical processes, thus enhancing the efficiency of the technology. This method resulted in one of the most advanced and efficient naturally-sourced lithium-ion battery every produced, while at the same time purifying the wastewater. Talking about the study, which was recently published in Applied Materials & Interfaces journal, Zhiyong Jason Ren, the paper’s co-author, said:
The novelty of our process is changing the manufacturing process from top-down to bottom-up. We’re biodesigning the materials right from the start.
The researchers have already applied for a patent. A spin-off of the project is Emergy, a company in Boulder that is currently focusing on bringing the technology to the market. Ren went on to say:
This research speaks to the spirit of entrepreneurship at CU Boulder. It’s great to see students succeeding and creating what has the potential to be a transformative technology. Energy storage represents a big opportunity for the state of Colorado and beyond.