Cheers to the Environment: PurposeEnergy Aims to Make Brewing More Sustainable

When Eric Fitch decided to start his own company a few years back after working on a string of other startups, he knew clean energy was the way to go. “I couldn’t escape the gravity of this renewable energy thing,” he says.

He thought the industrial and manufacturing arenas would be the best targets, as industries such as transportation were already teeming with renewable energy innovators. Luckily for Fitch, he had friends in the right places, one of those being Boston’s Harpoon Brewery. Fitch, a home brewer himself, knew firsthand how much waste beer production creates. Harpoon let him come in and analyze its operations, allowing him to build a model of its energy use and output—and to begin brewing up ideas about how the organic waste produced in the system could be converted to renewable energy.

“While it’s quirky and cute, it’s also a good business model,” says Fitch, who has his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from MIT and a decade’s worth of experience at startups in industries as diverse as biotech, sports equipment, and software under his belt. “The beer brewing industry is the best marketing industry in the world,” he explains. Fitch’s aim is for his company, Arlington, MA-based PurposeEnergy, to excel in the beer market, and then let its first customers become the startup’s loudest advocates as it expands into other industries.

Brewing and bottling beer creates organic byproducts at almost every step of the process, from spent grain and yeast to protein deposits. The resulting waste is mostly water with a high concentration of solids, which companies have to pay to transport offsite to treatment facilities that charge by the pound to make the water safe enough for disposal.

PurposeEnergy, incorporated in 2007, has come up with system that uses a process called anaerobic digestion to turn the byproducts from brewing into renewable fuels. Installed on-site at a brewery, the “PurposeEnergy Biogas Facility” would convert much of the organic waste into methane, the main component of the natural gas that most breweries use to fuel their plants. In doing so, it would cut costs for energy and byproduct remediation by about … Next Page »

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