How Upslope Is Repurposing Its Carbon Dioxide Emissions

When beer brewing gives you CO2, use it to make biodegradable ink. 

October 26 2016, 11:21 AM

—Photo by Jesse R. Borell of Nocoast

Upslope Brewing Company is one step closer towards its goal of becoming a zero-waste brewery. The Boulder beer-maker has partnered with the ever-resourceful Boom Algae, a Boulder startup that repurposes the CO2 byproduct released in the brewing process as food for algae. You may recall Boom Algae from a 2015 5280 story, where we detailed the company’s ambitious plan to build a greenhouse project at Upslope—a plan that was eventually abandoned due to difficulty obtaining construction permits. Boom Algae’s new strategy, producing algae that will eventually become biodegradable ink, can be carried out on a small scale within the brewery, sans the building code hurdles.

How, you ask? When yeast eats sugar during the process of fermentation, there are actually two end-products: a molecule of alcohol (bless you, yeast), and a molecule of carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas). Fortunately, CO2 is food for photosynthesizing organisms. Upslope fitted its fermentation tanks with a mechanism that transfers excess CO2 to a separate tank filled with rinse water captured from the brewery’s canning line. That’s where the synechocystis, a type of fresh water algae, comes in. The singled-celled organism thrives when surrounded by much higher levels of CO2 than are found in our breathable air. It absorbs the gas, water, sunshine, and a few other nutrients and in turn grows lots of new cells. 

Those cells are loaded with deep green pigment, which happens to be perfect for creating biodegradable ink. Boom Algae sells the residual pigment to the Fort Collins startup Living Ink, which runs an algae-ink printing press. It’s a win-win-win-win: The atmosphere is spared the harmful CO2 emissions, the algae is thriving, and two sustainability-minded Front Range startups are in business. 

As for Upslope, the team members might be sleeping a little better at night knowing they’ve traded CO2 emissions for sustainably-produced ink, but they’re not making a dime in the process. For the brewery, this endeavor is about doing the right thing rather than making money. “Whenever we can pursue something to reduce our footprint, we go after it,” Upslope co-owner Matt Cutter says.