A unique cohort of Colorado industries tackle carbon emissions

A new program connects breweries and cannabis cultivators to capture and reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Ali Longwell //February 13, 2020//

A unique cohort of Colorado industries tackle carbon emissions

A new program connects breweries and cannabis cultivators to capture and reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Ali Longwell //February 13, 2020//

The growing problem of climate change and rising carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions requires creativity and innovation to tackle, which is why a cohort of Denver businesses came together to establish the first commercial exchange of recovered carbon dioxide through a new pilot program.

The pilot program, initiated by the State of Colorado Air Pollution Control Division, leverages carbon capture technology from Earthly Labs to capture and store excess CO2 created by Denver Beer Co. during the beer fermentation process. The captured CO2 is then saved for reuse by The Clinic, a Denver-based cannabis dispensary chain.

“Reducing CO2 emissions is an all-hands-on-deck effort — everyone has to pitch in, and every little bit helps,” says Kaitlin Urso, environmental protection specialist for the small business assistance program at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “These sort of innovative partnerships represent Colorado’s creative approach to solving big problems with small steps.”

According to Amy George, the CEO and founder of Earthly Labs, climate scientists have predicted that we need carbon capture technology to solve 13% of CO2 emissions worldwide. “Colorado is positioning itself as a leader in climate tech and innovation,” George says. “Colorado is an important carbon capture market because of the growth and density of two industries, brewing and cannabis.”

The Technology

Urso, George, Cusworth and Berger enjoying Denver Beer Co. beers with Earthly Labs CO2 recovery technology, CiCi. Photo by Lauren Mims, The Clinic. 

Breweries using carbon capture technology is nothing new, however, it has been previously inaccessible to smaller craft breweries such as Denver Beer Co. “The innovation in the Earthly Labs technology comes with the affordability and the size,” says Charlie Berger, co-founder of Denver Beer Co. “Basically, we can now institute it in our size of a brewery, which means every over small brewery can do it as well.”

This was part of George’s intention in creating the carbon capture technology. “In the face of climate change, I wanted to focus on miniaturizing the carbon capture tech and put it in the hands of small businesses and homeowners to invite them to help solve the challenge,” she says. “Instead of relying on thousands of industrial players, we are inviting tens of thousands to the table to address the challenge.”

So, how exactly does the Earthly Labs technology work? The carbon capture technology, CiCi, is a machine — about the size of a refrigerator, according to Berger — that connects directly to the beer fermentation tanks through an industrial hose, or foam trap. From there, the CO2 created during fermentation is not only purified by CiCi, but it is compressed into a liquid form that can be saved in a storage vessel and then transported to The Clinic for use in its growing facilities.

While this technology can be easily used by beverage manufacturers, distilleries and wineries, George says that Earthly Labs is “approached weekly with a new opportunity to capture and avoid CO2 emissions.”

The perfect closed loop

While the technology was not initially intended for breweries and dispensaries, as producers and users (respectively) of CO2, they’re the perfect pair. “Breweries are the perfect customer because they deal in CO2 everyday,” George says. “There was an opportunity for me to close the loop on [breweries’] emissions and allow them to reuse it.”

Where does the CO2 come from? Malted barley (Denver Beer Co. uses only Colorado-grown malted barley) provides the sugars in the brewing process, which is metabolized by the yeast to create CO2 and alcohol. While CO2 (for carbonation) and alcohol (for obvious reasons) are desirable bi-products, fermentation produces an excess of CO2. Typically, this is released into the atmosphere during production.

How do cannabis growers use CO2? Similar to other plants, cannabis requires a healthy dose of CO2 (as well as oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium and other nutrients) for photosynthesis. The use of CO2 not only grows stronger plants, but it increases the crop’s yield.

The Program

The pilot program has a couple of goals aside from reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

For one, it aims to measure the impact that the beer CO2 has on The Clinic’s crops. According to Berger, the commercially available CO2 that The Clinic has been using is produced as a bi-product of oil and gas production. As such, the CO2 contains some “volatile organic compounds” that the beer CO2 does not have. So, the program will look to evaluate if this new CO2 enhances their plant yield, plant quality and plant potency.

A second goal is to see how much carbon dioxide Denver Beer Co. can capture over the course of a year. “We anticipate that we will capture about 150,000 pounds of CO2 using this unit this year, which is about what 1,500 trees can consume in a year,” Berger says. “That’s a pretty big forest.”

The program offers an unique opportunity for two of Colorado’s largest — and most regulated — industries to collaborate and build toward a more sustainable future.

“We’re both high profile [industries] and when high profile industries take smart, sustainable actions that both enhance their business and their products, it’s important for us to tell that story and to have the consumers in Colorado — who care about our culture, our outdoors lifestyles and our environment — to get on board,” Berger says. “I’m excited to see how many other breweries will join in.”