By Megan Dobransky on Jan 11, 2011

Banned Caffeinated Alcoholic Drinks Now Used For Ethanol

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You won't find this kind of Four Loko anymore. Due to pressure from the FDA, manufacturers of these types of caffeinated alcoholic beverages pulled their products. Now, they're destined to become fuel. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Sparks. Tilt. Joose. Four Loko. Liquid Charge. Torque. These drinks may sound fun, but they’ve all been discontinued. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration called the caffeine added to these alcoholic beverages an “unsafe food additive” and issued letters of warning to four manufacturers in November.

In response, manufacturers pulled their beverages from shelves to reformulate them without caffeine and other stimulants or dispose of them completely.

The caffeinated alcoholic beverages that once promised to fuel you will now become fuel.

Instead of landfilling or incinerating the thousands of cases that already exist, three ethanol recycling facilities in the U.S. have begun to turn the alcohol contained in the drinks into ethanol. Most varieties contain up to 12 percent alcohol, the amount of about four beers.

“To get an idea of how much actual ethanol is made, it is pretty simple math,” said Craig Potter, spokesperson for MXI Environmental Services. “Each can is 23.5 ounces and is 12 percent alcohol. So each can makes about 2.8 ounces of ethanol, or about 33 ounces per case. To give you an idea in gallons, we get a little more than a gallon out of every four cases.”

MXI Environmental Services, a Virginia-based ethanol recycling company, operates a Distilled Spirits Plant as well as a Materials Recovery Plant. This means that not only is alcohol recycled into fuel-grade ethanol, but also all the glass, cardboard, aluminum and plastic used in the beverage packaging is also recycled.

“We recycle or reuse everything in the process…This is only the first step in our mission to redefine how waste is processed and fuels we can create from it,” said Potter.

MXI has received truckloads of the terminated beverages, 30 different products in all, which they then convert into high octane ethanol fuel to sell. “The product is run through our distillery and, subsequently, our molecular sieve to come out as ethanol ready for fuels blending,” Potter said. “The waste water is pumped through our Mechanical Vapour Recompression Evaporator. This machine separates the water from the starches, sugars, colorings and anything else in the waste water and recycles it back into the distillery as steam.”

The company has a contract with Phusion Projects, makers of one of the most popular brands of these drinks, to take back discontinued Four Loko products. While Phusion Projects still manufacturers Four Loko products that look the same, they’ve reformulated the recipe to exclude caffeine. All of the drinks that used the old formula will eventually become ethanol.

“We can reduce the waste stream at a premium while creating a domestic source of energy,” Potter said. MXI and other recyclers might not stop there. “Cutting edge gasification technologies exist that might enable us to directly convert waste into fuel.  This opportunity could be a major stepping stone towards our goal of bringing waste management into the 21st century,” he said.

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