This beloved brewery gets electricity from its own beer. Yup: beer energy!

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?

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less
via Wikimedia Commons and Goalsetter

America's ethnic wealth gap is a multi-faceted problem that would take dramatic action, on multiple fronts, to overcome. One of the ways to help communities improve their economic well-being is through financial literacy.

Investopedia says there are five primary sources of financial education—families, high school, college, employers, and the military — and that education and household income are two of the biggest factors in predicting whether someone has a high level of financial literacy.

New Orleans Saints safety, two-time Super Bowl Champion, and social justice activist Malcolm Jenkins and The Malcolm Jenkins Foundation hope to help bridge the wealth gap by teaching students about investing at a young age.

Keep Reading Show less
True

2020 was difficult (to say the least). The year was full of life changes, losses, and lessons as we learned to navigate the "new normal." You may have questions about what the changes and challenges of 2020 mean for your taxes. That's where TurboTax Live comes in, making it easy to connect with real tax experts to help with your taxes – or even do them for you, start to finish.

Not only has TurboTax Live helped millions of people get their taxes done right, but this year they've also celebrated people who uplifted their communities during a difficult time by surprising them with "little lifts" to help out even more.

Here are a few of their stories:


Julz, hairdresser and salon owner

"As a hairdresser and salon owner, 2020 was extremely challenging," says Julz. "Being a hairdresser has historically been a recession-proof industry, but we've never faced global shut down due to health risk, or pandemic, not in my lifetime. And for the first time, hairdressers didn't have job security."

Julz had to shut down her salon and go on unemployment benefits for the first time. She also had to figure out how she was going to support herself, her staff and her business during this difficult time. But many other beauty industry professionals didn't have access to the resources they needed, so Julz decided to help.

"My business partner and I began teaching basic financial literacy to other beauty industry professionals," she says. "Transitioning our business from behind the chair to an online academy was a challenge we tackled head-on so that we could move hairdressers into this new space of education, and create a more accessible curriculum to better serve our industry.

Julz connected with a TurboTax Live expert who helped her understand how unemployment affected her taxes and gave her guidance on filing quarterly estimated taxes for her small business. "I was terrified to sit at a computer and tackle this mess of receipts," Julz says, so "it was great to have some virtual handholding to walk me through each question."

In addition to giving Julz the personalized tax advice she needed, TurboTax Live surprised her with a "little lift" that empowered her to help even more beauty professionals. "When my tax expert Diana surprised me with a little lift, I was moved to tears," says Julz. "With that little lift, I was able to establish a scholarship fund to help get other hairdressers the education they deserve."


Alana, new mom

Alana welcomed her first child in 2020. "I think my biggest challenge was figuring out how to be a mom, with no guidance," she says. "My original plan was to have my mom by my side, teaching me the ropes, but because of COVID, she wasn't able to come out here."

She was also without a job for most of 2020 and struggled to find something new.

So, Alana took it as a sign: she decided to launch her own business so she could support her new baby, and that's exactly what she did. She started a feel-good company that specializes in creating affirmation card decks — and she's currently in the process of starting a second, video-editing business.

TurboTax Live answered Alana's questions about her taxes and gave her some much-needed advice as she prepared to launch her businesses. Thanks to their "little lift," they provided her with a little emotional support too.

"I got my mom a plane ticket to finally [have her] meet [my daughter] for her first birthday," Alana says. "I was also able to get a new computer," which helped her invest in her new business and work on her video editing skills. "It's helped my family and me so much," she says.


Michael, science teacher

When schools shut down across the country last year, Michael had to learn how to adapt to a virtual classroom.

"As a teacher, I had to completely revamp everything," he says, so that he could keep his students engaged while teaching online. "At the beginning, it was a nightmare because I had no idea. I had to go from A-Z within a couple of weeks."

Michael's TurboTax Live expert answered his questions about how working from home affected his taxes and helped him uncover surprising tax deductions. To top it all off, his expert surprised him with brand new science equipment and supplies, which allowed him to create an entire line of classes on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. "Now I can truly potentially reach millions of children with my lessons," he says. "I would never have taken that leap if not for the little lift from TurboTax Live."



Ricky, motivational youth speaker

As a motivational speaker, Ricky was used to doing his job in person, but, he says, "when COVID-19 hit, it altered my ability to travel and visit schools in person [because] schools moved to fully virtual or hybrid models."

He knew he had to pivot — so he began offering small virtual group workshops for student leadership groups at middle and high schools.

"This allowed me to work with student leaders to plan how they would continue making a positive impact on their school community," he says. He wasn't sure how being remote would affect his taxes, but TurboTax Live Self-Employed gave him the advice and answers that he needed to keep more money in his pocket at tax time — and the little lift he received from them has helped him serve even more students.

"[It] has been a major blessing," he says "There will be multiple schools and student groups from across the country that I can hold leadership workshops with to empower them with the tools to be inspirational leaders in their school, community, and world."

Plus, he says, it was great knowing he had an expert to help him figure out how being remote affected his taxes. "I felt confident and assured in the process of filing my taxes knowing I had an expert working with me, says Ricky. "There were things my expert knew that I would not have considered when filing on my own."

Filing your taxes doesn't have to be intimidating, especially after a year like 2020. TurboTax Live experts can give you the "little lift" you need to get your taxes done. File with the help of an expert or let an expert file for you! Go to TurboTax Live to get started.