Nicole Marrone

If you thought that beer’s potential was limited to encouraging drunk-dialing your ex or inspiring some sweet dance moves, think again. A team of researchers from the Centre for Biomedical Technology of Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM) and the Institute of Materials Science and the Institute of Catalysis and Petrochemistry of Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC) in Spain have discovered that byproducts of the brewing process could be used to create scaffolding for bone grafts. The results of the study have been published in the journal RSC Advances.

After the brewing process, beer leaves behind organic waste products rich in calcium, magnesium, silica, and phosphorus. These minerals are also present in bone, inspiring the researchers to explore other uses for the byproduct outside of the traditional use in animal feed or fertilizer.

One of the largest components of the organic brewing waste is bagasse, which is what remains after the grain has been utilized. While bagasse has traditionally just been burned after use, it has recently come into use as a biofuel and also in a line of biodegradable disposable dishes. After some manipulation, bagasse has a great deal of potential for biomedical applications. 

When used for bone graft scaffolding, the bagasse can be arranged into a mesh-like network. The pores of the network, which range from 50-500 microns in diameter, provide an excellent base for bone regrowth following an injury. The researchers tested the practicality of the bagasse scaffold with osteoclasts derived from mice, which did quite well.

According to the researchers, the beer byproducts’ “characteristics can be tailored for use as replacement candidates in osteoporotic treatments, coatings for prostheses, bone grafts and orthodontic (dental) implants, for example, with greater cost effectiveness than conventional scaffolds and eliminating the use of non-renewable raw materials or toxic substances in their preparation.”

Having another practical use for the bagasse and other organic material is beneficial to the brewers as well, as they create a tremendous amount of waste. This creates a sustainable supply of material to make the scaffold. While there are synthetic alternatives currently available, it takes a very long time to manufacture those expensive materials, which generate hazardous byproducts in the process. Recycling beer byproducts is a more sustainable solution.

[Hat tip: Liat Clark, Wired]

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