Old Bust Head brews beer with recycled CO2

Old Bust Head Brewery at Vint Hill soon will produce its first batch of beer using recycled carbon dioxide.

On the surface this may seem like an odd milestone to celebrate, but for Julie Broaddus, one of the co-founders of Old Bust Head, the achievement will bring the company closer to becoming one of the most environmentally sustainable microbreweries in the country.

Her late daughter Finley helped provide the motivation.

"We think life should be rich and sustainable," Broaddus said. "And that fits beautifully with Finley because her life was rich. She loved life, and she really cared about sustainability."

After battling a rare form of cancer for several months, Finley passed away on June 2, 2014, at the age of 18. She was a charismatic person who cared deeply about her education, friends, family and especially the environment, her family said.

Broaddus said when it came to sustainability, her daughter left a lasting impression on the people around her, even the Johns Hopkins Hospital doctors and nurses who took care of Finley during her final months.

"She told all the nurses don't bring me a Styrofoam cup, don't give me a second plastic cup with my pills, I want the same one," Broaddus recalled. "And she would walk around the halls turning out the lights in the rooms that people had left on when there was nobody in there."

Years later, the hospital nurses check in from time to time and let Broaddus know they're still recycling and checking the lights are off in empty rooms.

"[Finley] really made a huge impact on all those nurses," she said.

Growing up, Broaddus said she spent most of her time outdoors which nurtured her love of nature. Her husband Ike, who co-founded the brewery, is also seriously committed to sustainability having come from a family of radical environmentalists. But Finley, her mother said, was in a league of her own.

Two months after she was diagnosed with liver cancer in February 2014, Finley started a fundraising campaign from her hospital room she called "Finley's Green Leap Fund." Within two weeks, 432 people donated a total of $67,000.

The funds allowed grants to several environmental groups, including the Cacapon Institute in West Virginia and Green Belt Movement in Kenya.

"[Finley] made those first two grants at the end of April and then she passed away a month later but her fund has continued to grow," Broaddus said.

And grow it did. With the help of the community, Finley's Fund has amassed $345,000 to date - approximately $65,000 a year.

Since her passing, Julie and Ike Broaddus have passionately worked to honor their daughter's legacy by continuing to raise money for environmental non-profits through an annual 5K and installing green technology, including LED lights, geothermal heating and cooling and solar arrays, to make their business more sustainable.

But Old Bust Head's latest sustainability project, Broaddus said, is something she is particularly proud of because it is something very few microbreweries in the world are doing carbon capturing.

"Oxygen is the enemy of beer," she said. "Oxygen turns it bad. And so everything that we do here at the brewery when we're brewing our beer is to keep oxygen away from the beer. We purge our lines with CO2. We clean our tanks with CO2. We refill the CO2 before we put the beer in. We carbonate with CO2. We use a ton of CO2."

Most of the CO2 Old Bust Head and most other microbreweries use to produce their beer gets released into the atmosphere, which is not only unsustainable from an environmental standpoint, it's also a significant financial burden.

"We learned that our CO2 bill is in the same ballpark as our natural gas bill, our electric bill and our water bill," Broaddus said.

But as of last month, the company began using a new green technology from a small start-up company in Austin, Texas, called Earthly Labs to capture the carbon produced during the fermentation process, purify it, transform the CO2 into a liquid, and store the recycled carbon in a box the size of a refrigerator.

Broaddus said she first heard about this technology from Old Bust Head Brewmaster Jay Bergantim, who pitched the idea to her last summer.

"The very first thing I thought of was, of course, Finley," Broaddus said. "She would never approve of us putting CO2 into the atmosphere, especially when we had an alternative available to us."

Using this new technology, Broaddus claims her company is able to capture about 8 to 10 pounds of CO2 per hour during krausen (peak fermentation) and approximately 1,000 pounds of CO2 per month.

The other benefit is the recycled CO2 actually improves the quality and taste of the beer, according to Broaddus. Those interested in trying it for themselves can attend a ribbon cutting ceremony at Old Bust Head brewing March 12 from 2-3:30 p.m., when the recycled CO2 beer will be available to taste.

Many large commercial beer companies, such as Heineken and Miller, have had carbon dioxide capture technology for about a decade. But, the technology recently has evolved to become more affordable for smaller operations.

Old Bust Head invested about $100,000, Broaddus said. She is not sure whether the company will break even on the investment or if it will make money in the long-term by reducing the purchase of CO2.

Regardless, Broaddus said her motivation was not the cost. It was to set an example for other companies that there is no price tag too big when it comes to protecting the environment.

"I do this because of [Finley]," she said.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.