The best thing people could possibly do with society’s waste is to reuse it — to turn a stream of pollution/garbage into a valuable resource.

It’s the whole idea surrounding the “Reduce-Reuse-Recycle” mentality. If life gives you waste, make lemonade (that’s how the saying goes right?). It’s a very reasonable and efficient way of minimizing our impact on the planet we live on. So whenever a new technology is developed that allows us to do that, it edges our world one step closer towards true sustainability.

Recently, Denver Beer Company, The Clinic, Earthly Labs and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) came together to do exactly that. They identified a wide-spread stream of waste, devised a way to use it elsewhere, and came up with a machine that can capture it and turn it into green — quite literally.

It’s an affordable, small-scale carbon capture system that traps CO2 coming off of the brewing process, and compresses it so that it can then be used to grow weed. And the experiment was a major success — as of July 4th of this year, Coloradans can buy pot grown with beer CO2 from any of The Clinic’s dispensaries.

“We are very pleased how that pilot project turned out,” says Charlie Berger, a co-founder of Denver Beer Company. “It gave us the opportunity to show any CO2-user, that there's more than just one option. One that’s just like commercial gas, but actually, that’s from an alternative source.”

Kaitlin Urso, Amy George, Brian Cusworth and Berger epose with Earthly Labs CO2 recovery technology. Image credit: The Clinic.

Kaitlin Urso with the CDPHE brought Earthly Labs onto the scene when she realized that there was a problem with an easy fix: Brewing beer produces a lot of CO2 (and Colorado brews a lot of beer), which is usually just wasted, lost into the atmosphere. At the same time, cannabis growers need CO2 to grow their pot plants. All that they needed, was a way to bridge that gap — to turn brewery CO2 into something that cannabis companies could use.

If it could be done affordably, it could revolutionize two of Colorado’s biggest industries, and make this state that much more sustainable.

“I think it's really exciting — it's just good all around,” says Urso. “We should be thinking about our waste streams as commodities and about re-use.”

The gas that comes off of Denver Beer’s brewing process goes into an Earthly Labs CO2 tank and is compressed into liquid form. From there it’s driven just a few miles south to The Clinic’s grow operation, where they hook it up to a vaporizer, return it to gaseous form and then disperse it throughout their veg- and grow-rooms.

And there are a lot of advantages to doing it this way: Not only does it divert 6,600 pounds of CO2 (that would otherwise be lost to the atmosphere) every month, but it is also cleaner. The commercial CO2 that The Clinic normally uses, comes from combustion at electrical plants and isn’t nearly as pure as the stuff coming out of Denver Beer — which, according to The Clinic’s lead grower, Chris Baca, makes for much denser, stickier nugs.

The CO2 tanks. Image credit: The Clinic.

On top of all that, because Denver Beer and the Clinic’s grow are so close together, it cuts down on transportation emissions too. The commercial CO2 had to be driven up from Colorado Springs to a distribution center and then delivered via trucks all around Denver. The Beer CO2 by comparison, just jumps on a truck, rides seven miles south, and is ready to feed some plants.

All told, over its 16-week harvest period this pilot project saved some 93 trees-worth of CO2 from entering Colorado’s atmosphere. So now, when customers go into The Clinic’s dispensaries and they see a little sticker that says “93 Hoppy Trees” on a product, they’ll know: that bud was made using beer CO2. It’s going to be dank and it’s helping save the planet.

“We're just happy to be one of the first cannabis cultivators in the country to successfully use brewery CO2 and grow healthy cannabis plants with it,” says Zach Engel, the Director of Operations at The Clinic. “Hopefully that inspires others the industry to take on that same kind of environmental responsibility.”

Denver Beer is sending around 80,000 pounds of CO2 to The Clinic every year, and they’re also re-using some of their CO2 in their brewing process for carbonation. It’s elevated them to become one of the most sustainable breweries of their size in the entire state — and, dare I say, the entire nation.

Berger’s only hope, is that others in his industry see the value in this system. Particularly now, when we’re staring at an opportunity to rebuild our future.  

“These are the kinds of stories that we need to be focused on. Yes, we have a global pandemic. But I want to try and make sure we don't just rebuild this economy back into what it was. Because what it was, was not sustainable enough,” Berger says. “And I hope that we rebuild it into what it can be.”

Image credit: The Clinic.