MIT Spinoff’s Microbes Turn Beer Waste Into Clean Water, Energy

Cambrian Innovation is extracting clean water and energy from waste streams at two California breweries with a secret set of microbes.

The Boston-based startup has raised $30 million to install its EcoVolt systems, and plans to market them using a model that’s similar to the leases that are driving the residential solar market, Chief Executive Officer Matthew Silver said in an interview.

The technology uses bio-engineered microbes that consume much of the contaminants in wastewater and belch out methane. While the water isn’t clean enough for drinking, customers use it for cleaning or agricultural purposes, and the methane can be burned to produce heat or electricity. The process reduces the need for traditional wastewater treatment services, according to Silver.

“We can provide significant savings,” Silver said in an interview at Bloomberg’s headquarters in New York. “We’re selling clean water and energy as a service.” The technology is in operation now at two California breweries, operated by Lagunitas Brewing Co. and Bear Republic Brewing Co.

Like Solar Leases

The company is targeting brewers and other water-intensive industries in drought-stricken areas like California and Texas, and will use the funding to build as many as a dozen more, Silver said. Cambrian plans to sell water-treatment plants through water-energy purchase agreements, where brewers and other customers sign 10- or 15-year contracts and agree to make payments based on the amount of water that’s handled. 

The contracts are modeled after solar leases, in which companies like SolarCity Corp. own rooftop solar systems and their customers make monthly payments under decades-long deals.

Cambrian emerged from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2006. Its EcoVolt systems can produce as much as 80,000 gallons (303,000 liters) of treated water a day, reduce fresh water consumption by 40 percent, eliminate 1,600 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually, and use the methane to produce as much as 130 kilowatts of power, he said.

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