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UW beer paper
Kurt Haunreiter, the lab manager in the University of Washington’s Paper and Bioresource Science Center, holds up some of his spent beer grain paper. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

There were pretzels and there was a guy dressed in lederhosen. But the only sign of beer at this Oktoberfest event, of sorts, was the spent grain from the brewing process that was being used to make paper.

In the bowels of Bloedel Hall on the University of Washington campus in Seattle, Kurt Haunreiter runs the Paper & Bioresource Science Center in the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences. Dressed like he was headed to tip a pint, or four, Haunreiter got in the spirit of the season last week during a demonstration of the possibilities when it comes to paper making.

It’s a craft he learned after 25 years working in the pulp paper industry, including many at the Kimberly-Clark paper mill in Everett, Wash. In his third year at the UW, Haunreiter encourages students to find interesting ways to displace wood fiber in their paper products — and spent beer grain is one of them.

“There’s not a lot of economic benefit to the microbreweries,” Haunreiter said of the brewing byproduct, which often goes to farms as cattle feed. “Being that we’re part of the bioresource program here, not just paper, I looked at, ‘How can we take advantage of something like that and incorporate it into paper making?’ The beer grain is not real strong, it doesn’t impart great characteristics, it’s more of an artisan paper.”

UW beer paper
Beer paper is way easier to make when you dress the part. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
Beer paper
Students in the paper lab at the UW help run the machine producing paper made from spent beer grain. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

With the paper machine humming in his basement lab and three or four students helping out, Haunreiter’s finished product did indeed look like something you might scroll a nice note on, especially to a friend who likes beer (the best kind of friend).

He said the paper was suitable as “communication paper,” meaning it could be run through a laser or ink-jet printer. With 20 percent of the wood fiber displaced by spent beer grain, Haunreiter called it a “nice strong sheet” and figured that a later run on the machine, in which he planned to “up the basis weight,” could produce a business card stock.

It’s the second time Haunreiter has run brewer’s byproduct through his paper maker. “We do a lot of contract work,” he said of the Paper Center. “So I don’t always get to do my projects.”

beer paper
The paper has an artisan look, as little pieces of the spent beer grain can be seen in the finished product. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

And for Haunreiter and his students, it’s not just a gimmick to get the teacher to don a Bavarian hat. The hope is to attract incoming freshmen who might be curious about the mix of beer and paper, and stop by the lab. There’s also real science being applied, and Haunreiter speaks quickly, throwing out paper-making terms over his loud machinery.

“I have to watch the chemistry,” he half shouts. “A lot of non-wood fibers will be very anionic. Paper makers don’t like a lot of anionic — they have a name for that, it’s called trash. But in our case, the anionic charge is coming from the furnish that we want. I adjust the chemistry ahead of time, because if it’s too anionic the fibers won’t bond to each other.”

There are other paper makers in the world using a similar process, and generating results on a larger scale. Gmund is a German company that makes communication papers, and Ingrain of Santa Barbara, Calif., makes packaging and brand materials such as beer coasters.

Haunreiter gets his spent grain from Big Time Brewery, a craft beer maker in the University District that has been around since 1988. But holding the paper up to one’s nose doesn’t really produce the desire to ingest it like, say, a glass of ale would.

“It will smell more like bread, not beer. We were surprised at that,” Haunreiter said. “But it’s the texture we want. Unfortunately you still get the husks, and that will interfere with printing and usability, but our end user is looking for an artisan paper, and that’s what we’re trying to go for.”

beer paper
It was like a little craft brewery inside the UW paper lab — plenty of pretzels, but only root beer. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
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