Close Menu

Bill Gates ‘wastewater beer’ could be as disruptive as Microsoft

Disgruntled consumers might refer to bad beer as tasting “like dishwater” but new tech being developed in California could mean that before long beer could be made from purified shower, laundry and sink water, thanks to Bill Gates.

Earlier this year Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft and the world’s fourth richest man, took an almost US$1 billion stake in Heineken, the world’s third largest brewer. That is an investment.

But one of his sponsorships could herald a drinks industry revolution potentially worth hundreds of billions of dollars a year.

Back in 2012 the Bill and Melissa Gates Charitable Foundation gave a grant to a start-up company called Epic Cleantec, as part of a “Reinvent The Toilet” challenge. The idea was to spur development into water reuse and conservation.

Eleven years later, according to CNBC, Epic has produced a test beer, Epic OneWater Brew, which is made from wastewater.

The process used could revolutionise the whole drinks industry at the same time as combating growing water shortages around the globe, not least in the US, where severe shortages are predicted from as early as next year due to climate change and population density.

The United Nations calculates that just 2.5% of the world’s water is fresh water with extra pressure being put on that resource as the population heads rapidly toward eight billion.

A Colorado State University study published in 2019 showed that half of the 204 freshwater basins in the US may not be able to meet monthly water demand by 2070. And the pressure on supplies is increasing.

The San Francisco-based Epic Cleantec is primarily concerned with developing water waste and reuse systems.

Co-founder Aaron Tartakovsky told the broadcaster: “Water is omnipresent in all our lives. It grows the food we eat, we use it to bathe, cook and clean…and yet we know so little about how water works, how it gets into our taps and where the wastewater goes.”

“We are trying to amplify the water story to tell it in a different way, and we are using the medium of beer to tell that story.”

In an experiment, Epic fed wastewater from a large San Francisco apartment block through “ultrafiltration membranes” 100 times thinner than a human air. They filter out impurities and the cleaned water is then disinfected by using ultra-violet light.

Tartakovsky told CNBC this process is comparable with the biology that takes place in the human stomach

And seemingly it works.

He claimed that independent testing of Epic’s cleaned water shows it meets US Federal standards for drinking water and often exceeds them.

Cleaned water was passed to Devil’s Canyon Brewing Co in San Carlos California, which produced the Epic OneWater Brew.

As it stands, strict Federal and individual US state laws mean that Epic and Devil’s Canyon are prohibited from selling their Epic OneWater beer.

But they have been giving away samples to test public reaction to the technology – and so far it has been positive.

Changes in the law to allow the brew to be made for sale may be some way away, but already recycled water is permitted in taps in Texas and Arizona.

California, Colorado and Florida are formulating regulations about turning recycled sewage water into something suitable for public consumption.

And as Tartakovsky told his CNBC interviewer “using recycled water for drinking or potable use is quite common, but typically it is done on a municipal level. So he is hopeful that Epic’s system will be permitted on a commercial basis.

The economics of it and its scalability are under wraps but if they are workable Gates and his proteges could be on to a system as revolutionary to drinks production as Microsoft’s Windows was to personal computing.

In May, the drinks business reported that Fox City Brewing Company, based in Georgia, had sold out of one of its beers that was made from treated sewage water.



It looks like you're in Asia, would you like to be redirected to the Drinks Business Asia edition?

Yes, take me to the Asia edition No