Full disclosure: I dig Anthony Canecchia. He reminds me of all my uncles and cousins from the Italian side of my family with last names like Cusimano, DeMarco, and Mangano.
I also dig what his brewery, SanTan Brewing Company, has been up to lately.
The Chandler-based brewing company recently bought a nitrogen generator and ordered a CiCi unit from an Austin-based company, Earthly Labs, to recapture carbon dioxide emitted from its beers’ fermentation process. The recaptured CO2 is then used exclusively to carbonate SanTan’s beers. Full circle.
The Earthly Labs machine — it looks like one of those supercomputers from an old episode of The Twilight Zone — can now be seen on the SanTan tours (back since March at 495 East Warner Road in Chandler).
Beer flows into SanTan’s 10,000-gallon tanks through hoses, then into kegs and cans. “When you start the fermentation process, you want no oxygen to ever be introduced to the beer again,” Canecchia says. “Everything is run in a closed system.”
Therefore, the oxygen must be purged. Before, SanTan was purchasing carbon dioxide to pump into its system to clear the oxygen out. “The fermentation lasts about seven days, and that tank is just spewing carbon dioxide onto the ground,” Canecchia says.
During the pandemic, the SanTan team was able to pause and look at how much carbon dioxide was involved in this process — both the amount being bought and the amount being put into the atmosphere.
“We produce about 800 metric tons of carbon dioxide,” Canecchia says. “That just goes to waste.”
So they bought a nitrogen generator. SanTan started purging tanks, lines, kegs, etc., with nitrogen instead.
“Now, when the beer fills [tanks, kegs, etc.], it's nitrogen that’s going out to the atmosphere, so it’s just becoming air again,” Canecchia says. (The earth's atmosphere is 78 percent nitrogen already.) “That was one way to reduce our carbon dioxide use.”
Then came Earthly Labs. Cannecchia heard that a brewery called Austin Beer Works had been testing out one of Earthly Labs' machines. Canecchia knew those guys — the Mikes — and called them up. The Mikes were most pleased with CiCi unit and had plenty of great feedback on it.
Canecchia made a decision. “We need to find the budget even though we’re down [in production] 30 to 40 percent,” he says of the time. “It was that important.”
“I can't believe how well it's working,” Canecchia says. “It's running right to spec.”
The combined use of these two purchases — the nitrogen generator and the CiCi unit — will reduce SanTan’s carbon dioxide emissions by more than 50 percent a year.
“We've eliminated about 500 metric tons [of carbon dioxide] in 2021," he says. "It’s massive.”
This also makes SanTan the first brewery and distillery in Arizona to implement carbon capture technology — “unless,” Canecchia says, “somebody’s being quiet about it.”
SanTan's active in other sustainability efforts, too.
Spent grains from the beer-making process go to area farms for cattle feed. All that could've-been-wasted pandemic beer was distilled and used to produce more than 400 gallons of medical-grade hand sanitizer.
And SanTan’s beers have always been packaged in aluminum cans, even back in 2010, when there was a stigma about craft beer not being in bottles. Canecchia says aluminum cans are “the superior package” because it is “infinitely recyclable.” That’s what the discontinued AmeriCAN Canned Craft Beer Festival was all about (that, and drinking beer at a festival).
Now Canecchia says SanTan wants to turn toward educating other brewers about CO2 recapture. “The Craft Brewers Conference isn't until September, but I want people to know that this exists now,” he says. What’s more, over time, this technology can completely eliminate a brewery’s need to purchase carbon dioxide, which Canecchia hopes would be appealing from a business standpoint.
“Everyone’s looking for one big switch to flip about green energy, but there are things that we can do today,” he says. “Even if you don't care about the environment, do you care about money? Money is green. Go green, buddy.”
But for Canecchia, personally, recapturing C02 comes down to loving the state of Arizona, he says. The native Long Islander has lived all over the continent, but always returns here, and did so permanently in 2007 to start SanTan.
“If I can do my part to keep my state and my community beautiful and reduce the impact my business has had on the air quality of our state,” he says, “then it's just a no brainer.”