A team of researchers has found an inventive use for beer waste.

By Mike Pomranz
August 21, 2018
© Arielle Cifuentes

Humans are still a long way away from colonizing Mars. Heck, humans are still too lazy to go back to the moon. But no matter how far we travel from Earth, beer wants to be there. Earlier this year, an Australian brewery began raising money for a beer bottle you could drink from in space. Last year, a group of college kids was developing a way to brew beer on the moon. And last March, Budweiser even pledged to work towards being the first beer on Mars.

Yes, for the time being, all these promises of space beer are a moot point, but now, a research team at the University of Colorado has suggested that having beer in space might actually be handy, scientifically speaking: They’ve developed a type of material—perfect for space colonization—that is created from beer waste.

Not that rain and snow are anything to scoff at, but once outside the Earth’s atmosphere, protecting humans from the elements is critical to survival. But traveling with materials that are able to keep breathable air in and extreme temperatures out isn’t easy. That’s where “aerogels” come into play. Though these materials are nothing new, the Smalyukh Research Group at the University of Colorado has created a significant new spin on the substance.

“[We have] developed a super-insulating, ultra-light, and ultra-transparent aerogel film,” Ivan Smalyukh, a professor in the Department of Physics, explained to Digital Trends. “Aerogels are extremely porous solid objects that are made mostly from air, and are about 100 times less dense than glass panes. Our aerogel is made from nanocellulose, which is grown by bacteria that eat waste beer wort, a waste byproduct of the beer industry.”

Though currently these flexible, durable, and, importantly, cheap aerogel films are being explored as a better way to insulate windows on Earth, the project—which was recognized for its potential space applications as a winner at NASA’s 2018 iTech competition—could also have uses in other parts of the solar system.

“Extraterrestrial habitats will face extreme temperature fluctuations which must be eliminated inside the habitat,” Smalyukh continued. “We see our aerogel product as a prime way to accomplish this, additionally allowing for the harvesting and storage of solar energy inside of habitats because these aerogels are transparent to sunlight. Because our aerogel can be made from waste, space colonizers wouldn’t necessarily have to bring the aerogel with them from Earth, which would be expensive. Instead, they could grow, from waste, [and] with the help of bacteria, aerogels to be used in habitats.”

To put that in plain English, the benefits of brewing beer on Mars could potentially go beyond increasing your odds of hooking up with space hotties; beer waste could also be utilized in constructing your living quarters and keeping you alive.

Meanwhile, beer has been found to have other beneficial uses outside of just getting you drunk. People have turned beer into a gasoline replacement, transformed spent grains into “barley milk,” and even used beer waste to help create more beer. Sounds like the real question is how would humans survive on Mars without beer??

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