Unveiled by Governor Jared Polis and the state departments of Energy and Public Health and Environment on January 29, the new pilot program allows brewers to capture the CO2 byproduct of their brewing processes and then ship it to marijuana growers, who will use the gas as a supplement to boost their plant yields.
Denver Beer Co. and the Clinic are the guinea pigs of the program. If it's successful, the Clinic will receive cleaner CO2 than it gets from its current provider, an East Coast supplier that trucks it across the country, according to Clinic CEO Max Cohen. All of the Clinic's CO2 needs should be met by Denver Brewing Co., which will capture the CO2 produced by yeast during beer fermentation.
The two businesses are the only ones in their respective fields participating in the pilot program, but Polis raised hopes that some of the other 900 licensed marijuana grows in Colorado will consider working with local breweries to do the same.
"We're talking about the success of two great industries and the success of our planet," Polis said at the January 29 announcement. "We derive our livelihood on many industries dependent on our climate here in Colorado," he added, noting that outdoor tourism, ski resorts and agriculture all depend on a healthy climate.
The governor says he wants the marijuana industry to be a "model of sustainability from an energy perspective [and] waste-use perspective," but acknowledges that the science of growing pot is still evolving and "existing with solutions from decades ago."
Emitting CO2 during the brewing process has been accepted for centuries, not decades. A byproduct of using yeast as an essential step to converting sugars into alcohol and carbonation, the CO2 coming from Denver Beer Co.'s fermentation tanks will now be put to further use.
"It's a fact that fermentation produces CO2 as a byproduct. We extract sugars from malted barley and feed it to a brewer's yeast. That yeast metabolizes the sugar and creates CO2 and alcohol, so we need those things to make beer. It's also a fact that CO2 is a greenhouse gas," said Charlie Berger, co-founder of Denver Beer Co. "The CO2 that was a waste stream for us can now be captured and turned into a revenue stream while eliminating our emissions."
Earthly Labs, a carbon emissions recycling company, will purify the CO2 before handing it off to growers at the Clinic, who use about 7,000 pounds of it per 7,000 square feet in the grow every month. It should take most growing operations less than two years to see a payback once they adopt the program, explains Earthly Labs founder Amy George, who believes the marijuana-brewing relationship could save 1,500 trees per year based on emission reduction.
The legal marijuana industry is thirsty for more than just CO2. According to a report for the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment, the pot industry accounted for almost 4 percent of the city's electricity use in 2018 because it relies on powerful lighting and climate control systems indoors. During the announcement of the CO2 recycling program, Polis also revealed the start of the Colorado Cultivars Energy Management pilot program, an initiative that will provide free energy-use audits of a marijuana operation's energy efficiency
"Our partner utilities will work directly with cannabis cultivators within their service territories to look at high energy use areas and opportunities for operational changes that reduce energy use without major impacts to production metrics," said Colorado Energy Office Executive Director Will Toor.
Fifteen growing operations will have their lighting, fan systems, climate control and other steps assessed by the Colorado Energy Office, with opportunities for incentives and rebates if they acquire more environment-friendly equipment.
Both programs will be evaluated for success and possible extensions, but the dates for such evaluations have not been determined, according to the governor.