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Microbrewers adopt Mars colonisation technology

A technology developed to enable human habitation of the planet Mars is being sold to microbrewers as a means of cutting production costs.

Pioneer Energy’s CO2 Craft Brewery Recovery System is based on technology designed to help future Mars missions to recycle the planet’s CO2 to create fuel, oxygen and drinking water (Photo: Nasa)

Robert Zubrin, the president of the Mars Society, came up with the space technology, which recycles and stores CO2 generated during beer fermentation which can be used later to carbonate the beer.

Zubrin has worked with the Johnson Space Center’s In Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) team for years to develop technologies that could use substances on Mars – in particular the planet’s air, which is 96% CO2 – and turn them into fuel, oxygen, drinkable water and other vital resources.

The systems Zubrin has produced also have a range of applications on Earth, including an oil and natural-gas recovery technology, according to Nasa.

Carbon dioxide is produced as a by-product of fermentation when yeasts convert sugars into alcohol. While some microbreweries give fizz to their beer through a secondary fermentation, many choose to carbonate the beer after a single fermentation has been completed, using bought-in CO2.

Big breweries have systems that capture and purify CO2 produced during fermentation so that it can be used for carbonation and other functions, such as purging tanks.

Because most microbreweries that carbonate their beers are unable to afford such systems for the processing and storing CO2, they allow CO2 to dissipate into the air during fermentation, then use carbon dioxide from bought-in canisters later on.

Now, however, a company called Pioneer Energy, based in Colorado in the US, has developed a mobile system – called the CO2 Craft Brewery Recovery System – which gives microbrewers capabilities similar to those enjoyed by their large-scale competitors.

The system is based on the technology designed to harvest, liquefy and store the gas on Mars.

The CO2 Craft Brewery Recovery System (Photo: Pioneer Energy)

“Our system produces about five tonnes of carbon dioxide per month,” said Zubrin, adding that this amount could supply a brewery that makes up to 60,000 barrels of beer per year. For those making more, the CO2 recovery units can be stacked to increase capacity.

The crucial element in the system is its automation. A Nasa report explained that typical proposals for a mission to Mars includes plans to send the return vehicle two years in advance of the crew. During this time the vehicle would autonomously produce resources both for the mission and the journey home.

Such a system would therefore have to be fully automated, using techniques like those Zubrin has established during his work for ISRU.

Similarly, in order to save microbreweries money, the CO2 Craft Brewery Recovery System would have to work automatically, Zubrin said.

“On a smaller scale, this thing’s got to be totally automated,” he added. “The robotic control you would need for a system on Mars is key to this.”

Pioneer Energy began producing the system late last year and has received more than a dozen orders for it in the US. Zubrin, a craft beer lover himself, believes the market potential is considerable.

“Within the United States, there are several thousand breweries that would be targets for this, and probably 20,000 worldwide,” he said.

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