Scientists and Australian beer maker Foster's are teaming up to generate clean energy from brewery waste water — by using sugar-consuming bacteria.
The experimental technology was unveiled Wednesday by scientists at Australia's University of Queensland, which was given a $115,000 state government grant to install a microbial fuel cell at a Foster's Group brewery near Brisbane, the capital of Queensland state.
The fuel cell is essentially a battery in which bacteria consume water-soluble brewing waste such as sugar, starch and alcohol.
The battery produces electricity plus clean water, said Prof. Jurg Keller, the university's wastewater expert.
The complex technology harnesses the chemical energy that the bacteria releases from the organic material, converting it into electrical energy.
The 660-gallon fuel cell will be 250 times bigger than a prototype that has been operating at the university laboratory for three months, Keller said.
"Brewery waste water is a particularly good source because it is very biodegradable ... and is highly concentrated, which does help in improving the performance of the cell," Keller said.
He expected the brewery cell would produce 2 kilowatts of power — enough to power a household — and the technology would eventually be applied in other breweries and wineries owned by Foster's. The cell should be operating at the brewery by September.
"It's not going to make an enormous amount of power — its primarily a waste water treatment that has the added benefit of creating electricity," Keller said.