San Francisco startup brews beer after recycling water from the showers

It is not for sale yet but when regulations catch up, you could surely get a pint to try it out yourself.
Ameya Paleja
The drink brewed from recycled wastewater
The drink brewed from recycled wastewater

Epic Cleantec

A San Francisco-based startup has successfully used wastewater from showers to brew a German Kölsch-styled ale. Moreover, the startup is not even in the beverages business but is working to recycle water in apartment buildings in the city.

Called Epic Cleantec, the startup provides water recycling systems to large buildings in cities that mandate them. While this is not a requirement in many cities in the US, San Francisco brought in a law in 2015 that new buildings above 100,000 square feet recycle their water.

This is because buildings use 14 percent of the globally available drinking water, but not all is used for drinking. Instead, high-purity water is often wasted in running taps in the sink and used to flush toilets. Epic Cleantec wants to change this by recycling water and has five installations in San Francisco.

Treating wastewater

Wastewater from a building is typically classified as black or gray depending on where it comes from. That coming from the drain pipes of toilets is called blackwater, while the rest from sinks, showers, bathtubs, and washing machines is called graywater.

Epic Cleantec's water recycling system can recycle up to 95 percent of this wastewater, irrespective of its classification, the company claims. NASA has managed 98 percent of recycling.

Epic Cleantec achieves so by using a biological treatment step that removes the organic matter and then uses 0.04-micron-thick membranes to filter the water. For context, human hair is 70 microns thick.

Post-filtration, the water is further treated using ultraviolet light and chlorine, which makes it ready for reuse, although not for drinking. A system installed in a single building in San Francisco can recycle 2.75 million gallons of water every year.

The company says that recycling water can also give additional benefits, such as cutting heat costs as heat recovered from wastewater can be repurposed. Organic products recovered from treatments can be used in gardens and parks. But surely the most newsworthy application is making beer out of it.

Beer from recycled water

Last year, Epic Cleantec teamed up with San Carlos-based Devil's Canyon Brewing Co. to brew something exciting with the water it was recycling. The company transported 2,000 gallons (7,750 liters) of recycled water for the brewery to work its magic, and Epic OneWater Brew was born.

Attendees of the Greenbuild, a sustainable building conference held in San Francisco, were treated to this ale to highlight water reuse and move beyond the 'yuck' factor that the water industry often encounters when proposing recycling.

Epic Cleantec cannot sell this ale since current regulation prohibits using recycled wastewater in commercial beverages. However, that could change in the future. Alternatively, the company would need to perform a couple of additional steps, such as reverse osmosis and UV oxidation, in its purification process to bring it to par with what municipalities in the US consider drinkable water.

After the news broke out, Epic Cleantec has also been approached by popular brewers for water to make some tasty ales. We might not be far from a future where recycled water is used for all commercial beverages.

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