Anheuser-Busch doesn’t just produce cheap beer for football games and frat parties—it also produces mountains and mountains of biological waste. The beer industry goes through more than 400 million tons of grain every year. These grains are used in the early stages of the brewing process and then discarded.
Most breweries give these spent grains away as livestock feed to avoid landfill fees. But Anheuser-Busch is exploring a new option: using those spent grains to create commercial products like clothes and cosmetics.
The beer behemoth has partnered with a company called Blue Marble Biomaterials, which plans to set up large-scale biorefineries at Anheuser-Busch breweries that will use naturally occurring bacteria to break down spent grains using proprietary "polyculture fermentation technology." That process will create both biogas, which can be used to generate electricity, and chemical compounds called
carboxylic acids that are used to make everything from nylon to soap to food additives to floor polish esters and thioesters (along with other specialty chemicals) that are used as natural ingredients in food and personal care products.
Blue Marble has been experimenting with spent grain from Anheuser-Busch for about a year. Now it’s set up a small facility in Montana to test the idea at a larger scale, which is already in production. Blue Marble’s challenge is to demonstrate that its process can be energy-efficient and cost-effective at high volumes. If it does, it will begin operation at one of Anheuser-Busch’s big breweries.
Assuming that it works, this partnership will transform one of Anheuser-Busch’s burdensome waste products into a revenue stream. It will also help the company reduce its carbon footprint and probably generate some favorable PR (like this post).
Some smaller breweries have already found better uses for spent grains. Shalfly Beer in St. Louis sells its spent grain as compost. The Frankenmuth Brewery in Michigan uses it to make bread bowls for their chili (mmm, delicious). But an estimated 92% of beer ingredients are still wasted. Given the size of Anheuser-Busch’s operation, this initiative could make a real dent in that number.