After more than a decade of delicious craft-beer-making, Magic Hat Brewery had grown into a major operation.

They got so big, in fact, that they ... actually couldn't get any bigger.

By 2007, Magic Hat was making more than 3.3 million gallons of beer a year. More than 90% of that final product was water, which was a major problem for the town of South Burlington, Vermont. (And that's not even counting the water used in cleaning and other aspects of production, too.)


As it was, the brewery's water bills were costing them about $200,000 a year, and the treatment facilities in their hometown were already working at full capacity. They wanted to start making more beer. But if they did, there wouldn't be any water left for the city's 18,000 residents.

Inside the "Artifactory" at the Magic Hat Brewery in South Burlington, Vermont. All photos by Thom Dunn/Upworthy, unless otherwise specified.

The brewery owners thought about building their own water treatment plant right at their brewery. But then a better idea presented itself.

PurposeEnergy, a small start-up founded by an MIT graduate named Eric Fitch, approached Magic Hat and offered to solve their water problem.

Fitch had been working on a prototype for what he called the "tribrid bioreactor." It was a hybrid of three different digester systems that would not only clean a brewery's wastewater, but also convert the biosolid waste (which is organic material such as spent grains, hops, and trub) into electricity.

Fitch had been looking for a place to put his prototype into action. Magic Hat was looking for ways to expand without ruining the city's water supply. It was a match made in Hop Heaven.

Converting their leftover beer parts into sustainable electricity? That was just an added bonus.

Hasper Kuno of PurposeEnergy inside the company's biogas generator at the Magic Hat Brewery.

How does something called a tribrid bioreactor work, exactly?

Basically, like this:

Image courtesy of Magic Hat Brewery and PurposeEnergy, used with permission.

"We basically allow Magic Hat to keep on expanding their production and not really be a burden on the local town," explained Hasper Kuno, who oversees PurposeEnergy's facility in South Burlington.

"What we send down the drain here, it’s literally cleaner than your typical household. And also we’re producing electricity on it, so it’s a no-brainer."

The thin black sludge on the left is how digested beer waste looks coming out of the digester; the clear cup on the right is how it looks after it's gone through the system's water clarifier.

According to Kuno, PurposeEnergy's tribrid bioreactor system can convert 93% of the brewery's waste into biogas and then electricity, allowing them to produce up to 220 kilowatts of energy daily — enough to power more than 200 average-size homes. Over the last five years, they've cumulatively produced more than 2.4 gigawatts of energy — which is twice as much as it took Doc Brown to power the Flux Capacitor that sent his beloved DeLorean back in time in "Back to the Future." So that's a lot.

"As far as we know, this is the most efficient digester in the world," Kuno said.

Oh, and that leftover 7% of waste that doesn't get converted into energy? It's still rich enough in nutrients to work as a hyper-concentrated fertilizer, which PurposeEnergy gives away to local farms — that is, when they're not using it as a soil substitute to grow their own hops.

Hops growing up the side of the water treatment tank behind the Magic Hat Brewery — with no actual soil, just a plant bed of leftover biowaste. So far, the hops are only being used for homebrewing, not commercial beer.

Since 2010, several other major U.S. breweries have adopted PurposeEnergy's epically sustainable brewing system too.

The bioreactor at Delaware's Dogfish Head Brewery is twice the size of the one at Magic Hat. The 1 million gallon system was built in 2014, and it has enabled the brewery to reduce its overall water consumption by more than half.

And in March 2016, PurposeEnergy broke ground on another new facility at Kona Brewing Company in Hawaii.

Kuno believes that big breweries will eventually hop on board with this trend, too. Companies like Molson Coors already have their own water treatment facilities on-premises, but the systems at those breweries have a life span of around 50 years.

"When that time is up, then we’ll come in and get them a new digester," Kuno said.

"No parking" because this is where the burn-off from the gas-to-energy conversion happens — meaning that big copper pipe sometimes shoots out fireballs, which are much less tasty than beer.

The best part about this whole thing? This sustainability system isn't limited to just beer.

As long as there's some kind of organic waste in a system, the bioreactor can convert it into energy.

"We’ve got a couple of dairies that we’re hoping to install some systems," Kuno said. "Acid whey makes a lot of electricity, and that’s the byproduct of Greek yogurt, which is huge right now."

If a brewery could power an entire neighborhood with just its own beer, who knows what other amazing ways we can find to make our world more sustainable?

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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There’s also a feeling that the current state of pop culture is lacking as well. Nobody listens to new music anymore and unless you’re into superheroes, it seems like creativity is seriously missing from the silver screen.

But, you gotta admit, that TV is still pretty damn good.

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Photo by TR on Unsplash

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Of course, wrecks aside, buying a used car might end up costing more in the long run after needing repairs, breaking down and just a general slew of unexpected surprises. But hey, at least we can all look back and laugh.

My first car, for example, was a hand-me-down Toyota of some sort from my mother. I don’t recall the specific model, but I definitely remember getting into a fender bender within the first week of having it. She had forgotten to get the brakes fixed … isn’t that a fun story?

Jimmy Fallon recently asked his “Tonight Show” audience on Twitter to share their own worst car experiences. Some of them make my brake fiasco look like cakewalk (or cakedrive, in this case). Either way, these responses might make us all feel a little less alone. Or at the very least, give us a chuckle.

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