US – The process of making beer usually results in mounds of leftover grain that beer manufacturers have to dispose of. Previously, the protein-rich and fiber-rich powder typically was either used in cattle feed or discarded in landfills.

With sustainability increasingly becoming an important part of the brewing process, filling landfills with their spent grain does not look good on the sustainability scorecard of beer manufacturers.

It is neither a good idea if a protein rich product is just fed to animals when millions of people have a problem accessing food.

To address the challenge of handling spent barley, Scientists have developed a new way to extract the protein and fiber from brewer’s spent grain and use it to create new types of protein sources.

To transform this waste into something more functional, the scientists – Huang and He from Virginia Polytechnic and State University – developed a novel wet milling fractionation process to separate the fiber’s protein.

Compared to other techniques, the scientists says the new process is more efficient because one is not required to dry the grain first.

Initially, the researchers proposed using the extracted protein as a cheaper, more sustainable replacement for fishmeal to feed farmed shrimp.

“There is a critical need in the brewing industry to reduce waste.”

Haibo Huang, Ph.D., the project’s principal investigator, Virginia Polytechnic and State University

However, more recently, Huang and He have started to explore using protein as an ingredient in food products, catering to the consumer demand for alternative protein sources.

The remaining fiber-rich product was not put to waste but subjected to a biodegration process where the various sugars were converted by a bacteria to 2,3-butanediol, a compound used to make many products, such as synthetic rubber, plasticizers and 2-butanol, a fuel.

The researchers have presented their results at the spring meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

“There is a critical need in the brewing industry to reduce waste,” says Haibo Huang, Ph.D., the project’s principal investigator. His team partnered with local breweries to find a way to transform leftover grain into value-added products.

“Spent grain has a very high percentage of protein compared to other agricultural waste, so our goal was to find a novel way to extract and use it,” adds Yanhong He, a graduate student.

To reduce the amount of waste it sends to the landfill, Anheuser-Busch InBev, unveiled a new barley-based six-pack beer packaging for its Corona beer brand in March.

According to a statement from AB InBev, the material from the upcycled barley is combined with 100 percent recycled wood fibers, creating a paperboard to produce new packaging that is as strong and durable as a regular six-pack, but better for the planet.

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