Research into spent grain offers new hope in the fight against Red Tide

With beer producing huge quantities of wastage in the form of byproducts, new studies are attempting to assess the viability of 'soggy barley' in stunting algal blooms.

While it may not be news to you that beer remains the most popular alcoholic beverage worldwide, and third most popular drink overall after water and tea, the sheer volume produced is staggering. By 2018 some 1.94bn hectolitres were being brewed on an annual basis.

These figures mean that even during a pandemic, beer is certainly the most important segment in the global alcoholic drinks market in terms of volume and value, with beer revenues this year eclipsing US$522,299m, according to Statista. This points to it also accounting for almost 75% of the global alcoholic drink market share.

But such numbers require vast amounts of water, malt, hops and yeast to meet global demand. And during the the brewing process, these quantities produce huge amounts of wastage in the form of byproducts such as ‘soggy barley’ or spent grain as its more widely known.

With this making up around 85 percent of the byproduct from beer production, much of this finds its way onto shelves in one form or another, whether that be as yeast extract (like Marmite), animal feeds or loaves of bread.

Others have gone one step further though, pushing the boundaries of innovation in the recycling process, spinning their spent grains into green energy via fuel cells during wastewater treatment and even researching its potential as a more profitable option in the form of high-value carbon materials.

However, one of its latest applications may just prove to be the most interesting yet, as researchers attempt to harness its powers to thwart Red Tide of Florida’s Gulf Coast.

For a number of years these algal blooms have killed fish in their droves and forced sunbathers off the beach, something that has already cost Florida upwards of $20m cleaning up and attempting to prevent these in its major bodies of water, according to a recent study by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG).

Although testing is at an early stage, scientists at Mote Marine Lab have found that molecules present in spent grain have taken just a few hours to kill organisms within Red Tide.

According to Allen Place, a professor in the University of Maryland’s Institute for Marine and Environmental Technology, these flavonoids appear to be “surpassing growth” of Karenia brevis, thereby starving it of its energy to live.

However, several key questions remain, including what happens to the toxins in Red Tide when when cells die, says Zachary T. Sampson in the Tampa Bay Times.