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Beer Waste Becomes Fish Food

US - The popular Fat Tire Amber Ale may have a "toasty malty" flavour, but beer has another characteristic: It's a key ingredient in an environmentally friendly form of fish food.

Three Colorado entrepreneurs are wagering hundreds of thousands of dollars to convert the wastewater from New Belgium's brewing operations into a high-protein ingredient to feed farm-raised fish.

The trio and their Idaho Springs, Colorado, startup hope to usher in change to the booming business of fish farming, or aquaculture. Fish farming has taken off as the world's catch of wild fish has hit a plateau. Global fish consumption, meanwhile, is climbing.

Farm-raised species such as salmon and tilapia rely on other fish such as anchovies and menhaden, which are ground into fish meal.

"We can't support the growth of the aquaculture business using fish to feed fish," said Randy Swenson, CEO of Oberon FMR Inc. "The business we're in is fish meal replacement."

Global fish meal production has been relatively flat at around 6 million to 7 million metric tons a year in recent years. Aquaculture output, by contrast, has been climbing at an annual clip of 5-plus percent, to more than 48 million metric tons in 2005.

Oberon is teamed with the Colorado School of Mines and the New Belgium Brewing Compmay, who brew the Fat Tire Amber Ale, to brew up its "fish meal replacement" at a pilot production plant at New Belgium in Fort Collins.

The pilot facility will feed and convert the protein-laden bacteria already swarming in New Belgium's brewing wastewater. The goal: to change that bacteria into a protein-rich biomass.

Reducing fishmeal demand

The resulting Jell-O-like goop will be dried into granules and added to fish feed, reducing the need for fish meal in the feed.

"You're taking what was previously a waste and turning it into fish food," said John Spear, assistant professor of environmental science and engineering at the Colorado School of Mines.

Spear noted the process could be duplicated with wastewater flowing from other food-related plants such as those making soy milk or jam.

Mines and Oberon landed a $1.1 million grant from the National Science Foundation in 2006 to help bankroll the effort and to try out the protein ingredient in Bangladesh, a key aquaculture country.

The NSF said the project aims to cut the "environmental impacts of a major and growing global economic activity" - aquaculture. The process, it added, "could be implemented in many countries around the world."

And while environmental alarm bells have been sounded over fish farming, Renee Sharp, senior analyst at the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, likes the idea of Oberon's product.

Company executives want to begin commercial sales as early as next summer.

Source: Scripps Howard News Service