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Magic Hat makes Magic Gas

April 4, 2011

Editor’s note…this story is NOT an April Fool’s gag.

Until now, beer has been rightly blamed for creating its fair share of obnoxious gases. Now a crafty mechanical engineer in the United States is turning the tables and using the brewing process to harness the power of the brew to offset the cost of the brewing process.

Magic Hat Brewing Company in Vermont in the United States has installed a system which extracts natural gas from the spent grain, hops and yeast after brewing. The anaerobic methane digester captures energy created by the brew waste and uses it to fuel the brewery equipment. In addition, the process filters the waste water making further savings on waste removal.

Eric Fitch is the man behind the idea although his only previous experience of brewing involved flooding his basement after blocking the plumbing while attempting to dispose of spent grain while homebrewing. He has turned this knowledge of ‘what not to do’ into a ground-breaking device which may change the way brewers produce their nectar.

As CEO of PurposeEnergy Inc Fitch first hit on the idea of converting waste to energy (rather than simply recycling it) back in 2007 and was soon trialling and refining his pilot system at Yuengling & Son brewery in Florida before attracting the attention of Magic Hat in New England who were happy to take on the new technology.

At almost 13 metres in height and around 15 metres in diameter it sits imposingly in the rear of the brewery’s car park diligently producing 200 cubic feet of biogas every minute from its 1.8 million litre slurry capacity. With a price tag of around USD$ 4 million it might not be within reach of all craft brewers in the US or Australia but it certainly shows that these good beer people have the future of the planet, as well as good beer, at heart.

Magic Hat, like most brewers, has looked at various ways to reduce their carbon footprint, to ‘green up’ their processes and to save the operators some money. From trucking spent grain to feed cattle and considering the use of pantyhose to catch solids when flushing the brew kettle (the stockings are presumably empty of female legs) many ideas have been considered. This system is different, however, in that it actually creates energy and uses it at the source. At Magic Hat the silo is no more than 100 metres from the Brewhouse.

Fitch, who has also developed an iPhone application which controls pumps and other processes within the digestor, estimates that a medium sized brewer like Magic Hat can save around $2 per barrel of beer which means decent savings to the consumers of their 154,000 barrels per year.

Now if only the consumers of the end product could look to reduce their ‘emissions’ while enjoying the beer we’d be making a big difference to the world around us.

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