New Zealand just took one step closer to becoming a complete utopia, where smiles function as money and drinking beer counts as environmental activism. Starting today, drivers can fill their cars with DB Export Brewtroleum, a biofuel made with the yeast leftover from brewing beer.
Simon Smith, a spokesman for DB Export—the New Zealand brewery that created the biofuel—told VICE it's actually pretty easy to turn beer into something that can run a car. So easy that "a few guys having a few beers" came up with the idea back in February. Six months later, the biofuel is being pumped at Gull Petrol Stations across New Zealand.
Here's how the process works. When brewing beer, there's always a bit of sediment left once the drink has fermented. It's mainly made up of inactive yeast, and people in the brewing business call it slurry. Usually, as Simon explains, "The yeast slurry is passed on to farmers for stock feed, but sometimes it can go to waste."
The DB Export folks realized the slurry could still be used to produce ethanol; a key ingredient in biofuel. So instead of dumping it, they sent 15,300 gallons of slurry to a refinery. There, the ethanol from the yeast was refined until it was pure enough to start mixing with petrol. Simon explains "Brewtroleum is 10 percent ethanol from our yeast, and 90 percent petrol." That's the same ratio as the E10 at your local service station, which almost all modern cars can run on.
DB Export made 79,250 gallons of biofuel, which Simon expects to last about six weeks, but he says a second batch might be on the cards. "It's gone off with a bang, so we'll just see how people enjoy it." In fact, one of Gull's Auckland employees reported people turning out in droves for Brewtroleum's launch, making it their "busiest day of the year, so far."
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Despite the hype, biofuel itself isn't always the holy grail of sustainability, so there's a little bit more to consider. As Professor Peter Scales from the University of Melbourne warns, not all biofuels are created equal.
Scientists break biofuel down into two categories, "generation one" and "generation two." Both are made with ethanol, just like Brewtroleum, but it's the source of that ethanol that makes all the difference.
Generation two biofuels source ethanol from waste products—like DB Export's slurry—and materials that would otherwise be thrown away. On the other hand, generation one biofuel is made from crops grown specifically to make ethanol. As Peter explains, this creates a catch-22. "Generation one biofuel is sustainable in one way, in that it's coming from a bio-source not a crude oil, but it is taking up farming land." When countries rely too heavily on generation one biofuels, practices like deforestation become more frequent.
Put simply, biofuel is sustainable as long as it's made using stuff that would otherwise go to waste. Because the process of making you a nice cold brew creates so much potential waste, beer isn't just a novel ethanol source for biofuel, it's also a smart one. Cheers to that.
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