As more and more states legalize recreational cannabis, savvy breweries are seeing it as an opportunity to make some truly dank brews. Denver, Colorado, where weed stores are just as common as beer bars, is taking this ethos to the next level by using spent CO2 from the brewing process to help grow cannabis plants.
Last year, Eartly Labs, an Austin-based public benefit corporation, debuted a CO2 capture system designed for small breweries. This month, Colorado Governor Jared Polis unveiled the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Carbon Dioxide Reuse Pilot Project aimed at reducing greenhouse gasses by essentially recycling them locally. The poster child of this project is Denver Beer Co., which recently installed Earthly Labs CO2 capture system. The system captures CO2 from fermentation, dries it, carbon filters it, and compressiesses it into a liquid form that can be reused again. According to the press release, the brewery will be able to capture 100,000 pound of carbon each year.
“We’ve put a lot of time and energy into the community that supports us and our small business by buying our beer; we’ve put a lot of time and energy into supporting them by making good business decisions and minimizing the externalities of operating a brewery in our community,” said Charlie Berger, co-founder of Denver Beer Co. “That includes stuff like putting solar panels on the roof of our production brewery—our beer is 100% solar powered—and investing in energy efficiency around the brewhouse and packaging facility, but also being on the looking for cool, new technologies that can minimize even further the impact were having on the local community.”
Before installing the system, CO2 emitted from the brewery was a waste product, both in terms of its harmful effect on the environment and also monetarily. According to Berger, the CO2 captured from beer production is more pure than commercially available CO2 from gas companies. The program allows Denver Beer Co to sell its captured CO2 to Denver-based dispensary chain The Clinic, where it is fed to growing cannabis plants. “It was a waste stream for us before, but now it’s a revenue stream,” Berger said. “We can use it to carbonate our beer and, the cool part about this project is, we can sell it to another local business that cares about the community.”
Denver Beer Co. is not the first brewery to put its carbon dioxide output to good use. Austin Beerworks was the first brewery to pioneer Early Labs systems. In Chicago, Whiner Brewing is part of a net-zero waste facility called The Plant, where different businesses within the facility put waste of fellow businesses to good use. In Whiner’s case, captured CO2 is used to feed algae farms in the taproom. The algae converts the CO2 back to oxygen. While the technology to make truly carbon neutral beers is still costly and out of reach for many breweries, some, such as South Africa’s Darling Brew, are currently experimenting with producing one-off beers to raise awareness about carbon emissions in the brewing industry.