At Lagunitas Brewing Company in Petaluma, California, electrogenic bacteria eat through about 20,000 gallons per day of spent brew water. The system doesn’t just slash the facility’s total water demand and water discharge, but it also creates enough energy to run itself and cover 15 percent of the brewery’s electricity demand.
After early success with a pair of California breweries, Cambrian Innovation, the provider of the technology, is now offering its EcoVolt modular reactors to other food and industry applications at no upfront cost, much the way that distributed solar is often sold to commercial and residential clients.
The power-purchase agreement, which Cambrian is calling a water-energy purchase agreement, or WEPA, is designed to help food, beverage and other big industrial users of water control costs. There are many companies trying to harness the opportunity to bring efficiency to the municipal and industrial wastewater market with various technologies, but no single approach has yet made a significant dent in the market.
In most major U.S. cities, water rates have risen 40 percent in the past five years. Sewer cost, in particular, is a rising line item for many water-heavy industries, sometimes as much as 10 percent a year. Cambrian’s WEPA financing is backed by a $30 million fund.
“What we’re doing is distributed clean water and clean energy generation,” said Cambrian Innovation CEO Matthew Silver. “It’s a new way of doing anaerobic digestion for the non-solid [wastewater] stream.”
Cambrian’s EcoVolt is not ideal for all industrial wastewater. It needs water with high levels of organics for the electrogenic bacteria, which are coated onto electrodes, to consume to produce electricity and high-quality methane. The combined heat and power can then be used to run the reactor, and also further clean the water for reuse or to be used by another part of the facility.
Given the successful start with breweries such as Lagunitas and Bear Republic, the company is focusing on craft breweries and wineries, although Silver said the technology is a good fit for many food and beverage producers.
Craft breweries, in particular, are often located on the edge of cities where sewer rates are rising. The craft beer market alone is worth about $20 billion in the U.S. Silver said that Cambrian has about $90 million of business in various stages of the pipeline, some of which could adopt the new WEPA financing option.
The system is scalable, from a single shipping container that can treat up to 15,000 gallons per day to 300,000 gallons per day. Typical installations can generate anywhere from 30 to 400 kilowatts of power. Lagunitas produces about 120 kilowatts of power.
The Boston-based startup, which was spun out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has raised about $11 million through a seed round and Series A, which was financed by Madrid-based Rijn Capital.