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Upslope Brewery founder Matt Cutter admits he was a bit skeptical when he first heard the Superior Ecotech pitch to put an algae greenhouse on the brewery's roof.
But after meeting with the new company's executives a few more times, Cutter realized how serious they were about using algae to absorb carbon dioxide produced during the fermentation process.
Superior Ecotech, a Boulder-based startup, is in Houston this week competing for more than $1 million in prize money at the Rice Business Plan Competition at Rice University. Two of the company's founders, Daniel Higgs and Philip Calabrese, are doctoral candidates at the University of Colorado, and the company's management team includes several CU business students and alumni.
The company is partnering with Upslope at its new Flatiron Park tap room to pilot technologies that use carbon dioxide, algae and sunlight to produce clean omega-3 oils, which can then be harvested and sold.
"It's cool because it's using our byproducts to produce something more efficiently," Cutter said.
Once it completes a $10,000 Kickstarter fundraising campaign, Superior Ecotech plans to install a roughly 1,000-square-foot greenhouse on the Upslope roof, Higgs said.
A conveyer belt that grows algae will be installed inside an air-tight container. A flexible tube will connect to the fermenters inside the brewery, allowing carbon dioxide to reach the greenhouse and the algae, Higgs said.
Using oil extraction equipment, Superior Ecotech will then harvest the omega-3 oil produced by the algae. After purifying the oil, the company will sell it to companies that make products using omega-3s, such as vegan spreads that mimic butter, Higgs said.
Higgs added that the omega-3s produced by his company don't contain contaminants that often find their way into the oil via the fish who eat algae in polluted oceans.
"Algae can be used for lots of different products," Higgs said. "The biggest problem right now that algae growers face is the current technologies are inefficient and expensive. We've developed an algae technology that can grow more algae per square foot than any other system, therefore reducing the cost."
The founders of Superior Ecotech collaborated with researchers at Iowa State University, where parts of the algae greenhouse technology have been created and tested.
The collaboration with breweries like Upslope makes sense, Higgs said, because of the unused space on the roof and the amount of sunlight Boulder gets each year.
"We're always looking for ways to reduce our carbon footprint, and if this algae greenhouse proves to be a way to do that, it's a win-win," Cutter said.
Contact Camera Staff Writer Sarah Kuta at 303-473-1106 or firstname.lastname@example.org.