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How this Aussie brewery incorporates algae into beer production

Algae seaweed in test tubes for laboratory research
Chokniti Khongchum

The Australian brewery Young Henrys is working to fight climate change with an unusual ingredient — algae. The fermentation process that occurs during beer production releases massive amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2), which can contribute to climate change. It takes a tree about two days to absorb the CO2 released from producing one six-pack of beer. But Young Henrys says its in-house cultivated algae not only absorbs the CO2 released, it also produces as much oxygen as 2.5 acres of wilderness

Algae, a photosynthetic organism, is often seen as a nuisance because it can cause red tide — a toxic algal bloom — or infect local water sources. But it is also up to five times more effective at absorbing carbon than trees, according to the technology company Hypergiant. 

Oscar McMahon, Young Henrys’ co-founder, sees its potential to curb beer production emissions. McMahon told Food Tank, "This is a unique project and the focus is not to profit. It is to create something that we can then share with other people to adapt and use."

Young Henrys signed onto this project with the University of Technology Sydney to reach carbon neutrality. To experiment with the effectiveness of its system, Young Henrys uses two bioreactors to cultivate algae. The first, a control, contains CO2, oxygen and algae. The second contains the same three components but is connected to a fermentation tank. As the fermentation process produces additional CO2, the gas flows into the bioreactor.

This is a unique project and the focus is not to profit. It is to create something that we can then share with other people to adapt and use.

According to McMahon, at the end of each day, the control bioreactor consistently contains 50 percent less algae. This demonstrates that the algae in the experimental bioreactor successfully consumes the harmful greenhouse gas, McMahon told Food Tank. The hope is that this system not only can lower CO2 emissions from beer production, but also ultimately convert them into oxygen. 

This specific project will continue for one more year, but McMahon hopes that algae will continue to lower Young Henrys' carbon emissions as it finds additional uses for the organism. 

Young Henrys is experimenting to incorporate algae into food, pharmaceuticals and bioplastics. Other companies around the world are developing energy bars, dietary supplements, protein shakes and other food and drink items using algae. 

To scale up algae production and develop these new products, McMahon and Young Henrys are in consultation with engineering and beer industry groups to make this process scalable. McMahon said that both micro-breweries and national breweries will require the infrastructure and technology to easily incorporate algae in beer production. 

McMahon described the beauty of algae and the microorganisms used in beer fermentation as "ying and yang organisms, similar things that live in big tanks of liquid that conduct opposite yet correcting jobs."

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