Beer with no buzz: 2021 Y-Prize awards dealcoholization project

LiberTech, the award-winning team, pitched their plan to filter alcohol from beer using a nanostructured membrane, which preserves the flavor of beer.

With a $23 billion global market for nonalcoholic/low-alcohol beverages, big beer makers and microbrewers alike are interested in tapping into the category. Sales are growing fastest in the United States, with consumers of all ages who want to enjoy high-quality, flavorful drinks while avoiding alcohol for health or religious reasons. LiberTech wants to give them all a reason to raise a glass for a toast.

2021 Y-Prize Winners Lucy Sun, Sharon Chan, Iris Cai, and Fred Lu
2021 Y-Prize Winners (left to right): Lucy Sun, Sharon Chan, Iris Cai, and Fred Lu. (Image: Mack Institute)

LiberTech is the 2021 Y-Prize winning team of Shangting (Lucy) Sun, Sharon Ying Man Chan, Zhouzheyuan (Fred) Lu, and Hechun (Iris) Cai. Along with three other finalist teams, they pitched their dealcoholization idea to judges at the competition’s online finale on April 26, 2021. The Y-Prize annually challenges students to explore taking Penn-developed technologies out of the lab and into the marketplace for the chance to win the $10,000 top prize.

Current dealcoholization methods are expensive and some processes negatively alter the drink’s taste. To remove the alcohol from the beverage without adulterating flavor, LiberTech wants to use membrane filtration developed by Penn Engineering professor Chinedum Osuji. The technology allows for the passage of liquids with the goal of separation to be done more precisely and efficiently than other filtration methods.

“Moving forward, we are hoping to use the $10,000 funding to validate our technology and conduct small-scale prototyping and piloting with breweries,” Sharon Chan says. “We are optimistic about this.”

To develop their idea, LiberTech team members say they spent months researching, talking to key opinion leaders, and creating a business case. Their efforts and those of the three other Y-Prize finalist teams were acknowledged by the judges when they announced the winner at the finale.