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Universities, Brewery Partner on Biofuels from Brewery Waste

Beer glass (Berndt Rostad/Flickr)Researchers from Anheuser-Busch Inbev Inc. in St. Louis, Missouri  and three universities have discovered stable microbe communities in brewery sludge with the potential to produce the basic building blocks of fuels. Their findings appear in the 22 February online issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The team from Cornell University, University of Colorado, and Washington University in St. Louis, along with the Anheuser-Busch partners, found unique and stable communities of microbes in the otherwise dynamic environment of brewery waste. Anheuser-Busch, which makes Budweiser and other brands of beer, treats the waste water from its nine breweries in bioreactors, and gave the researchers access to the bioreactors to take samples for testing.

The research included genomic sequencing of the microbes in the waste water, which led to the discovery of unique microbial communities in each bioreactor. The team identified 145 of these unique microbes, and from this collection, they found certain types of bacteria called syntrophs that had stable populations.

The microbes in the bioreactor tanks, each holding about one million gallons, already produce methane that Anheuser-Busch uses to generate about 20 percent of its heat. But by identifying the unique and stable microbes in the bioreactors, the researchers believe they can get more than methane from the brewery waste.

Largus Angenent, a professor of biological and environmental engineering at Cornell, says the research into the genomes can allow scientists to bioengineer the microbes to generate bacterial communities that produce carboxylates, which are a precursor to the alkanes found in fuels.

“We are going to shape these communities so they start making what we want,” Angenent says.

Read More: Biotech Company Finds Genes Enabling One-Step Biofuel Process

Photo: Bernt Rostad/Flickr

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