New breed of microbrew: UW chemists use 3-D printing to blaze a trail for better beer

Lengthy earlier than you’re taking that first sip of an ice-cold beer, the substances that went into that beverage had to ferment for weeks. Now College of Washington chemist Alshakim Nelson is hoping a 3-D printer can pace issues alongside.

Nelson, together with UW researchers Abhijit Saha, Trevor Johnston and Ryan Shafranek, produced a hydrogel as thick as peanut butter that’s composed largely of water, but additionally accommodates a yeast-infused polymer that makes up 30 p.c of the combination.

The standard approach of making beer includes including yeast cells to a stew of barley, water and different substances, then letting them munch on the glucose and switch it into ethanol. After the sugar runs out, the yeast is left to die or stay dormant and sink to the underside. It’s a unhappy story for the yeast, and a messy scenario for brewers who’ve to filter it out.

This know-how hasn’t modified a lot over the previous hundred years, however Nelson and his group needed to discover a approach to streamline the method and make it simpler for brewers.

“By embedding the yeast inside a hydrogel, it simplifies the step of having to take the yeast away,” he advised GeekWire.

After the cubes are 3-D-printed, which solely takes about 5 minutes, they’re hardened in an ultraviolet gentle chamber.

The hydrogel doesn’t change into as exhausting as plastic.

“It turns into like Jell-O. It’s jiggly and tender,” Nelson says. “Think about a dice of Jell-O in a lattice sample.” The lattice sample is constructed up from strips of hydrogel, like Lincoln Logs, to expose essentially the most floor space.

Nelson and his group are about to publish their leads to a scientific journal, however their investigation of 3-D-printed hydrogel is much from over.

For starters, the yeast-infused bioreactors appear to be items that carry on giving, and fermenting. “They’re in a position to do it for months and months on finish,” Nelson mentioned. “They’re completely satisfied employees inside our hydrogels.”

Nelson isn’t positive how lengthy the bioreactor cubes can preserve the fermentation course of going, however it has been producing ethanol for 4 months now. Nelson suspects that as a result of the yeast cells are immobilized, their development and replica is stunted with out affecting their means to preserve working.

One other factor the group hasn’t examined but is how the bioreactors would possibly have an effect on the beer’s style. “Nobody has been courageous sufficient to do this but,” Nelson mentioned with a giggle.

Nelson mentioned the group’s continuous-fermentation system is extremely versatile. Though the present mannequin has a quantity of one cubic centimeter, the hydrogel can actually take any form and be scaled up. With the appropriate sort of modification, the strategy may very well be used to produce proteins for prescription drugs and different biotech merchandise – which might be an achievement nicely value toasting.

Hat tip to The Economist.

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