Using viscose fibres for beer filtration

Viscose fibres are tasteless and bio-degradable and so are especially suited for use in the food and drink sector. Tea and coffee drinkers have long enjoyed the benefits of their tremendous filtration efficiency. This same enjoyment could soon be coming to beer drinkers as well. A team from Kelheim Fibres, the Bavarian manufacturer of viscose fibres, and from Krones AG, claiming to be the global market leader in drink technology, is currently researching into beer filtration using viscose fibres.

Beer filtration traditionally uses so-called kieselguhr: this extremely porous sedimentary rock is used to sift out impurities and residues from yeast. However, experts believe that in future kieselguhr could be declared hazardous waste, which would probably increase disposal costs many times over. What is bad for kieselguhr is good for Kelheim Fibres which manufactures annually around 90,000 tonnes of fibres and claims to be the leading global producer of special viscose fibres for fashion, hygiene or medicine: “Our objective is to develop viscose fibres into a real alternative to kieselguhr”, says Dr. Philipp Wimmer of Kelheim’s research and development department.

Healthier filtration

Fresh from the bag: viscose fibres for the production of t-shirts, bank notes or in future also beer (source: Stefan Kiefer/Kelheim Fibres)

Fresh from the bag: viscose fibres for the production of t-shirts, bank notes or in future also beer (source: Stefan Kiefer/Kelheim Fibres)

Used for tea bags and coffee pads due to their capacity to biodegrade – as we all know, tea bag throwing onto compost heap has long been standard practice – viscose fibres are similar in their chemical composition to cotton and are produced from natural cellulose from conifers and deciduous trees. This involves working the cellulose into a honey-like and gooey – i.e. viscose – mass, from which the fibres are produced. So much for the theory of fibres, now back to beer.

According to Wimmer, the filtration of beer using viscose fibres is more environmentally friendly because once the fibres have fulfilled their filtration purpose, since they are the product of renewable resources, they are CO2-neutral when burnt and can be composted or used as animal feed. Compared to kieselguhr the fibres also have the advantage that they do not create dust. “Over recent years kieselguhr has come in for criticism due to the dust it produces during the filtration process, since this dust can be harmful to the health of the brewery staff”, explains Wimmer. By adding functional additives it is also possible to optimise the fibres to remove tanning agents, for example. Since the additives are embedded in the fibres they are effective without passing into the product.

A ‘viscose-filtered beer, please

For all those who have always asked themselves what a production site for viscose fibres looks like, which also undertakes research into beer, here is the answer ‘à la Danube’ in the form of the headquarters of Kelheim Fibres in Regensburg (source: Kelheim Fibres).

For all those who have always asked themselves what a production site for viscose fibres looks like, which also undertakes research into beer, here is the answer ‘à la Danube’ in the form of the headquarters of Kelheim Fibres in Regensburg (source: Kelheim Fibres).

The bad news to finish: for all those looking forward to a freshly tapped ‘viscose-filtered’ beer. “It is still a little early to start filtering real beer. Although we have already successfully filtered a beer substitute, we are not yet able to offer a tasting”, continues Wimmer. The research project runs until the middle of 2016, after which point they will target commercialisation.

We can only advise in a quiet way to get a bit of a move on, for next year will be the 500th anniversary of the German ‘Reinheitsgebot’ or Beer Purity Law. Would it not be a fantastic birthday present to celebrate beer’s jubilee year with cheers to a fresh, fibre-tapped beer!

Also, for all those wishing to impress when next supping their beer: back in 1516 when the regulation that was to become recognised the world over as the ‘Reinheitsgebot’ was passed and which according to the German brewing industry is the oldest food regulation in the world, its original title was ‘How beer shall be served and brewed in the country during summer and winter’.

Ronny Eckert

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