15 April 2020

Student start-up will offer microbreweries cheap high-end quality control

Start-up

The start-up company BIRanalyzers is creating a new system for monitoring the quality of beer. It is both cheap and reliable, thus it has the potential to make microbrewing more stable and to reduce waste. To achieve this goal, the company is collaborating with a number of partners, including the Gastro Science Lab, the research brewery at UCPH FOOD, DTU Skylab and the SCIENCE Innovation Hub.

Mads Andersen and Jens Ringsholm at their calibration test rig at UCPH FOOD at the University of Copenhagen’s Frederiksberg Campus.

The larger established breweries use high-end measuring instruments to check the quality of their beer and these typically cost somewhere between DKK 100,000 and DKK 150,000. The start-up company BIRanalyzers has not yet set a fixed price for its innovative and soon-to-come measurement system, but it expects that it will cost 80–90% less. This would give the approximately 10,000 microbreweries in Europe a real opportunity to invest in a quality control system that matches those used by the major breweries. That’s the goal.

“Our dream is to be the first business to democratise quality control in the food industry. By that, I mean that we want to make high-end quality control instruments available to both large and small companies. This will help smaller companies in particular to achieve the highest quality products while minimising waste,” stated Mads Andersen, co-founder and chief technology officer of BIRanalyzers.

The University of Copenhagen accelerates start-ups

One of the roles of the university is to link research and equipment to industry, so that resources are turned into companies, processes and products that can create value for society. In particular, there is a historical tradition for this within food science research in Denmark and it is a constant goal for UCPH FOOD.

“A good idea can be turned into a new business venture, but it will typically be fragile with respect to survival and can very easily drown in a daunting series of tasks. Both the idea and the creators must go through the transformation to a real start-up by, for example, developing prototypes, tests and business plans while spending a huge amount of time and requiring an injection of capital,” said the head of department at UCPH FOOD, Anna Haldrup.

“We are developing a fairly advanced product, and in addition to the knowledge the researchers and Gastro Science Lab have, UCPH FOOD gives access to some very expensive testing facilities that we would otherwise never be able to use. Thus, it is a completely crucial collaboration for us ”

That is why the university offers start-ups in the food system access to researchers and facilities that can support the development of their companies. For example, BIRanalyzers has just tested a calibration model for its new measurement system using UCPH FOOD’s research brewery at the University of Copenhagen’s Frederiksberg Campus.

“Even before we became part of FOOD, we had met professor Mogens Larsen Andersen, who specialises in chemistry and the physical stability of food and beverages. He was very inspiring and confirmed that our idea could work. It was a great support and we later met the head of UCPH FOOD’s Gastro Science Lab, Rikke Pape Thomsen, who, in collaboration with the SCIENCE Innovation Hub, invites student start-ups to spar with each other and use the facilities that FOOD has at its disposal. At the same time, we received a clip card that can be used for sparring with professors and lecturers and that has been invaluable for us,” stated Mads Andersen.

Testing the calibration of the measuring system in the research brewery

The measurement system developed by BIRanalyzers consists of two pieces of equipment. The At-tank instrument takes samples of the fermentation process in the beer. This instrument is already available to brewers. The other is the new innovative In-tank instrument, which continuously takes measurements through a combination of sensors to assess how the fermentation is progressing. The two instruments together constitute the new system from BIRanalyzers, AtIn Solutions. The measurements are displayed in an app so the brewer can get a quick overview on a smartphone, tablet or computer. The instruments measure a number of beer parameters that microbrewers typically want to know: CO2 content, specific gravity (which is a measure of the digestible carbohydrate content) and the alcohol content.

“Our sensor technology will not work if our calibration model does not work. It is the calibration model that we have been testing at UCPH FOOD and this is what will enable us to offer measurements as good as the best high-end instruments, if not better. Moreover, correctly using the expensive solutions requires a good deal of technical understanding and training, whereas our system is very simple to use via our app without the need for special training or technical skills,” explains Mads Andersen.

By analysing the quality data measured by BIRanalyzers’ system, microbreweries will become better at controlling and optimising their production.

“Waste is also a factor. Brewing beer is still a bit of a black box. You hope for the best and have to trust your craft. By measuring these parameters, you gain more control and an understanding of what is happening, which results in a reduction in the amount of low-quality beer being discarded,” continued Mads Andersen.

BIRanalyzers was introduced to UCPH FOOD five months ago and was able to use the research brewery for almost 4 weeks before the coronavirus pandemic shut down their tests. 

“We are developing a fairly advanced product and in addition to the expertise of the researchers and Gastro Science Lab, UCPH FOOD provides access to some very expensive testing facilities that otherwise, we would never be able to afford to use. Thus, it is an absolutely crucial collaboration for us. It has been fantastic to develop the first draft of our calibration model, which is far better than we had imagined. This means we are very close to our goal, which is to achieve the same accuracy as the most expensive instruments available on the market today,” says Mads Andersen.

BIRanalyzers are developing their prototypes in the workshops at DTU Skylab, which are tested at UCPH FOOD.

“We are now sure about what we need to do and we will return to Skylab’s workshops to develop our prototype further. This will allow us to achieve the accuracy we are aiming for and then what remains for us is to make the equipment super easy for brewers to use,” Mads Andersen continued.

The plan was to test the system at a number of microbreweries in April and launch the product in October. However, that plan has been postponed somewhat due to the current situation, since the danger posed by COVID-19 has shut down many facilities.

The team behind BIRanalyzers

Mads Andersen, BIRanalyzers’ chief technology officer (CTO), met Petros Venetopoulos at an innovation course at the University of Copenhagen. They became friends and Petros was the first person Mads contacted when he became aware of the difficulties in measuring important fermentation parameters from his friends in the microbrewery Flying Couch Brewery. The two friends founded BIRanalyzers to develop a new measuring system and since then, four other founders have joined the team, so the company has a total of six owners, who together have the various skills the company needs in this initial phase.

The owners of BIRanalyzers, from the left: Bjørn Larsen, Jens Ringsholm, Petros Venetopoulos, Mads Andersen, Johan Schmidt, Bartosz Gaik.