Brewing Beer Sustainably with Mushrooms and Algae

What do mushrooms and algae have to do with brewing beer?  Isn’t beer made from malt, hops, water, and yeast?  Well, if Brandon Pitcher of 5 Kingdoms Development can make his vision a reality, mushrooms and algae, alongside many other biological organisms, may just become part of the sustainable beer brewing process.

Pitcher’s company name, 5 Kingdoms Development, hints at his brewing process. It utilizes the five biological kingdoms found in nature.  Instead of the traditional process where inputs are used and waste created and discarded, this sustainable process attempts to close the loop, creating a model for zero waste and zero emissions.

Here is a diagram of the envisioned brewery flow model, developed by Brandon Pitcher of 5 Kingdoms Development, George Chan, Jim Leuders and ZERI.  It contrasts the traditional brewing process with the Zero Emission Industry Material Flow brewing process.

Pitcher’s participated in a start-up pitch contest at the Green Business Base Camp last week. It was perfect timing for 3p’s quest for sustainability in the brewing industry.  Let’s touch on a few of these innovations Pitcher is bringing to brewing from the five kingdoms.

All spent up or all valued up
Say you have already brewed your beer.  You have a waste output, most notably spent grains. What can you do with the spent grains besides throw them out?  It appears to be of little use directly to the brewing process.  But what is once looks spent can actually become valuable.

There are many possibilities.  The spent grains can be channeled towards the fungi kingdom, (mushrooms), by using the grain compost as a growing medium for mushrooms.  Michael McBride of Storm Brewing experimented with growing mushrooms from spent grain and the experiment was successful: he’s now incorporated the process into his business plan.

Another option is to touch on another kingdom, kingdom animalia.  The spent grain can feed cattle, pigs, goats, and even fish.  It is all about finding that a channel in the five kingdoms to divert the waste stream towards.

Energy from wastewater
What about wastewater?  Is there a kingdom in nature that can handle transform this waste?  New Belgium beer has the best example of this, with an anaerobic digester.  Our microscopic friends from kingdom monera, known as bacteria, breakdown organic compounds.  These inputs are turned into hydrogen, methane, and carbon dioxide which can be used to create energy.

Then there is kingdom algae.  You may have heard of the efforts to make bio-fuel from algae.  It’s amazing how one tiny organism can do so much to turn waste into treasure.

Parts and pieces
Despite these innovations towards zero waste, the challenge is getting all these pieces under one roof.  Integrating so many different processes in one organization is a challenge.

With innovations utilizing the kingdoms of nature working its way throughout the industry, a pitcher of beer may become more and more sustainable.  Cheers!

Image credit: Selva via Flickr

Jonathan Mariano is an MBA candidate with the Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco, CA. His interests include the convergence between lean & green and pursuing free-market based sustainable solutions.

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