Penn Students Can Ferment Beer 9 Times Faster

It won them $10,000 and got them noticed by MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch.

Siddharth Shah, Shashwata Narain and Alexander David, the winners of this year's Y-Prize Competition.

Siddharth Shah, Shashwata Narain and Alexander David, the winners of this year’s Y-Prize Competition.

A group of Penn students have a plan to streamline the beer-making process — and it just earned them $10,000.

Siddharth Shah, Shashwata Narain and Alexander David took home the grand prize of the 2016 Y-Prize Competition from the University of Pennsylvania for developing a process that speeds up the fermentation process in beer production by up to nine times — while maintaining alcohol quality and composition. Not to shabby for three students in the Wharton School and the School of Engineering and Applied Science. Their advisors include executives from some of the biggest brewers in the world: MillerCoors, Anheuser-BuschInBev, Biocon India and Heineken.

Shah is already the founder and CEO of a financial services startup and an e-commerce startup. They’re located in Dubai and India. Narain has worked in product development at a logistics technology startup in India.

Now back to the beer. The team — which calls itself Fermento — uses microfluidics technology to accelerate the rate at which yeast converts sugar to alcohol by 70 percent. That’s accomplished by increasing the surface area of liquid sugars exposed to the yeast. This process typically takes up to three weeks in a standard batch reactor setting, making it the longest step in the $520 billion global industry’s production process. Speeding that up by nine times would lead to serious cost savings.

Not only did the group win cash, they also get to use Penn-owned biomedical engineering technology to help commercialize the idea.

It’s not the first Philly startup aiming to change the way beer is brewed. Invisible Sentinel provides a handheld test for a number of different potential contaminants. When we spoke with them over the summer, the company was working with 25 different breweries including Victory, Yards and Weyerbacher.

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