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  • Jessica Zimmer

Wineries Aim to Capture Carbon During Fermentation

Capturing carbon dioxide created during fermentation is a powerful way for the wine industry to help reduce climate change. It’s also a way for wineries to brand their products as environmentally friendly. Additionally, the action could become an opportunity to educate the public about climate change, said Dr. Ron Runnebaum, assistant professor at the University of California Davis in the Department of Viticulture and Enology and the Department of Chemical Engineering.

Inflatable containers connect to tanks to collect CO2 from fermentation at the Familia Torres Winery in Vilafranca del Penedès, Spain. Credit: Familia Torres

“A winery produces a very concentrated stream of CO2. It could capture this stream using a variety of techniques. The current challenge is that wine fermentation is seasonal and cyclical. My laboratory is currently looking at what approaches could be available, affordable and scalable,” said Runnebaum.

Runnebaum said the lab’s research focuses on how CO2 can be captured from fermentation and bound with a chemical solution to create a solid substance, like chalk. The lab is looking at how quickly reactions to capture CO2 occur, which can impact the size of equipment and costs. The team is also looking at ways that the crystals of the solid substance grow.

“The movement and kinetics, or rate, of crystal growth influences how large the crystals will become in the process. There are a number of options for how to capture carbon so it is a stable form that can remain sequestered,” said Runnebaum.

The lab’s research is funded by Jackson Family Wines, a Santa Rosa, California-based winery looking to develop sustainability measures.

Marimar Torres, founder and vintner of Marimar Estate Vineyards and Winery in Sebastopol, California, said the winery’s Spanish parent company, Familia Torres, has been experimenting since 2017 with carbon capture.

“Our Barcelona-based winery expects to capture 2,000 tons of CO2 in 2021. This is approximately 5% of the CO2 produced in our fermentation process. In 2022, we plan to implement carbon capture procedures at Marimar Estate in California,” said Torres.

The process involves drawing the CO2 off the top of the tank into inflatable containers. During fermentation, each molecule of sugar yields two molecules of ethanol and two molecules of CO2.

Hospitality staff of Marimar Estate Vineyards and Winery in Sebastopol, California welcome guests in the tasting room. Credit: Marimar Estate Vineyards and Winery

Cristina Torres, director of sales and marketing for Marimar Estate Vineyards and Winery, said Familia Torres is now also determining how to reuse the CO2 it extracts.

“We buy CO2 to displace oxygen from the tanks. This allows fermentation to happen more cleanly. The fresh fruit flavors really come out,” said Cristina Torres.

Cristina Torres said Familia Torres’ work is due to the vision of her uncle, Miguel A. Torres who has been leading the call for climate action in the wine industry for fifteen years.

“In January 2019, I spearheaded the founding of International Wineries for Climate Action (IWCA). Founding members Familia Torres and Jackson Family Wines are spreading the word about carbon capture and other emissions-reducing practices in the industry. Members of IWCA commit to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. In April 2021, (the organization) joined in the U.N.’s “Race to Zero” campaign,” said Cristina Torres.

IWCA now has ten active members and several other applications in progress. Members have been meeting via Zoom to exchange information about best practices through the pandemic.

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The interest in climate change is not limited to IWCA members. U.K. wineries such as Henners Vineyard in East Sussex have also shown a notable interest in reducing carbon emissions.

Advantages for wineries that engage in carbon capture will likely include improved worker safety. Since wine production releases a large amount of CO2, facilities teams must constantly evacuate the gas, which displaces air. This helps to prevent injuries to workers.

Reducing the risk of asphyxiation will later lower wineries’ costs for CO2 monitors.

It isn’t practical for wineries to buy relatively inexpensive singular CO2 meters. Such devices don’t help workers avoid dangerously CO2-rich environments. In order for a worker to understand whether a location is hazardous, a monitor should measure sulfur dioxide, oxygen and ozone, as well as CO2.

“There are advantages and options for carbon capture. But with few wineries engaged in the process, the cost of infrastructure is high. Right now, a few wineries are leading the way,” said Runnebaum.

Runnebaum added the question now becomes what incentives local, state and federal governments can offer to encourage more wineries to adopt carbon capture.

“As discussions grow, more people will share ideas. Any activity is helpful because it will raise awareness about carbon capture among consumers,” said Runnebaum.


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